Linux Certification Survey: The open source OS is large and in charge

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This feature first appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of Certification Magazine. Click here to get your own print or digital copy.

Linux is thriving, but the (formerly) Little Open Source OS That Could hasn't yet steamrolled the personal computing realm.A funny thing happened a few years back: Microsoft quietly turned a fairly monumental page, announcing that Windows 10 would be the last new version of the long-lived Windows operating system. After a generation of Apple-esque rollouts touting the new features and improved performance of each Next Big Windows, Microsoft shifted its development focus to the Azure cloud computing platform.

Windows 10 is still with us, and Microsoft is still adding improvements and updates. The explosion of interest in cloud computing, meanwhile, is more than sufficient reason to hitch the company wagon to Azure. A key factor in the perhaps greatly exaggerated demise of Windows, however, is a rather different Big Bang: The meteoric impact on operating system technology of the Little Penguin That Could.

Linux, created in 1991 by Finnish programmer Linus Torvalds (who became a naturalized American citizen in 2010 and resides in Oregon), began like a tiny snowball. Torvalds didn’t even adopt the penguin as Linux’s official mascot until 1996. With the enthusiastic contribution of thousands of smart programmers, however, the open source operating system grew and morphed and split into literally hundreds of distinct versions, or distributions.

In 2019, Linux is literally everywhere, undergirding the internet, supporting the business operations of hundreds of major corporations, and dominating the OS space for the millions of smartphones and tablets that are gradually pushing desktop and laptop computers (the only realm where Windows is still the biggest of the big cheeses) to the digital fringe. It’s a pretty good time to be fluent in Linux basics and ready to explore its still-expanding horizons.

What’s not to like about Linux?

Linux is thriving, but the (formerly) Little Open Source OS That Could hasn't yet steamrolled the personal computing realm.If Linux is taking over everywhere else, then what’s the hang-up for personal and business computer users? Why are so many of them still only minimally exposed (if at all) to the magic of Linux and its veritable rainbow of distros? We decided to make that a special area of inquiry for our recent Linux Certification Survey. Why is the PC and laptop world slowing the roll of everyone’s favorite open source OS?

For starters, many personal computer users may not know what they’re missing. Nearly 80 percent of those surveyed either agree (41.4 percent) or strongly agree (37.9 percent) that the stability and reliability of Linux is its greatest potential asset to personal computer users. Stability and reliability aren’t particularly sexy, however, especially since most people tend to take those characteristics for granted. Generally speaking, most computers, most of the time, do what we expect them to do.

There’s also the longstanding perception that Linux is easier to understand and easier to use for geeks — people whose interests lead them to engage in more than just surface-level computing. Only about a third of the certified Linux professionals who took the survey, people who probably use Linux every day, feel that ease of use is likely to be a strong calling card for Linux with those who don’t know very much about it.

In a similar vein, the flexibility and programmability of Linux is strongly lauded by survey respondents. It’s far from commonplace, on the other hand, for the average home or workplace computer user to even think about their operating system in terms of the different ways they can use it, or how they can play around with things to make it do what they want.

After years of using Windows, perhaps the prevailing mentality for many users is one of not fixing things that aren’t broken. Until and unless there’s a Windows price spike that cuts through the cozy embrace of familiarity, a lot of folks could be slow to hearken to one of Linux’s most bewitching features: it’s free. A noteworthy 75 percent of respondents think that’s an argument that could eventually rope in personal computers users.

The Day of the Penguin is … not soon

Linux is thriving, but the (formerly) Little Open Source OS That Could hasn't yet steamrolled the personal computing realm.Attempting to determine what might inspire a mass migration of personal computer users to Linux is one thing — but is it likely to actually happen? We asked a couple of different questions about timing to see what certified Linux professionals think about the likelihood that Linux will break through and gain a strong foothold in the last computing space where it has never really taken root.

Nobody is optimistic that widespread Linux adoption will happen among personal computer users right away. Just 19 percent of those surveyed either agree (12.1 percent) or strongly agree (6.9 percent) that a majority of the PC-and-laptop crowd will switch over “soon.” Sixty-seven percent of respondents, on the other, either disagree (44.8 percent) or strongly disagree (22.4 percent) with that notion. (The remaining 13.8 percent took a neutral stance.)

If we dial back the timeline from “soon” to “only gradually,” then there’s considerably greater optimism. About 42 percent of those surveyed either agree (34.5 percent) or strongly agree (6.9 percent) that, given time, a majority of personal computer users will switch to Linux. There’s more gray area here, with 24 percent of respondents neither agreeing nor disagreeing, while 34 percent either disagree (24.1) or strongly disagree (10.3 percent).

Of course, maybe it’s not a question of time at all. A considerable 58 percent of certified Linux professionals either agree (36.2 percent) or strongly agree (22.4 percent) that most personal computer users will never switch to Linux. Nineteen percent neither agree nor disagree, while 22 percent are holding out hope and either disagree (19 percent) or strongly disagree (3.4 percent) that widespread Linux adoption among individual home and workplace users will simply never happen.

After all, even certified Linux professionals don’t use Linux for everything. Almost 47 percent of respondents either agree (25.9 percent) or strongly agree (20.7 percent) that it’s important to them to use Linux on all of their own personal computing devices. Thirty percent of those surveyed took a neutral stance, but 23 percent either disagree (13.8 percent) or strongly disagree (10.3 percent) with the idea of a Linux on every desktop (so to speak).

Job satisfaction

While there’s not as much hair-tearing urgency about the need to find more skilled Linux professional as there is in, say, information security, demand is definitely outstripping supply. How is that affecting the current Linux workforce?

About 40 percent of survey respondents consider themselves to be in dire straits, either agreeing (27.6 percent) or strongly agreeing (12.6) that they are overworked. A nearly equal number (41.1 percent of respondents) don’t feel strong one way or the other, while 19 percent either disagree (17.2 percent) or strongly disagree (1.7 percent) with the notion of having more to do than they can keep up with.

For most certified Linux professionals, the tasks they perform are complex and engaging. A solid 77 percent either agree (49.1 percent) or strongly agree (28.1 percent) that their work is challenging, with a further 17.5 percent taking a neutral position. That leaves just 5 percent who either disagree (3.5 percent) or strongly disagree (1.8 percent) that they are challenged by their work.

We did ask one question that touches on the broad issue of compensation. Generally speaking, are certified Linux professionals satisfied with their current salary? About 43 percent either agree (36.2 percent of respondents) or strongly agree (6.9 percent) that their current salary is satisfactory, while 29.3 percent neither agree nor disagree. The remaining 27 percent either disagree (17.2 percent) or strongly disagree (10.3 percent) that their current salary is satisfactory.

Linux is thriving, but the (formerly) Little Open Source OS That Could hasn't yet steamrolled the personal computing realm.

Certification and employment

You definitely don’t have to be certified to find employment in the Linux realm: 81 percent of those surveyed were not required to have a Linux certification when hired for their current job. That leaves just 19 percent of respondents who had to have a cert to land their current job. For many skilled Linux professionals, it would seem, certification is more about learning than about getting a job.

Even in cases where certification is not required, of course, it still has the potential to play a role in any hiring decision that gets made. Asked to estimate the impact of certification on being hired at their current job, 28 percent of certified Linux professionals said it was either influential (8.6 percent) or very influential (19 percent), with an additional 29.3 percent reporting that certification was at least somewhat influential.

There’s a fairly high percentage of certified Linux professionals who are open source veterans. Roughly 60 percent of those surveyed report having worked in a job that directly utilizes one or more of their certified skills for more than a decade, while a further 16 percent have been plying their Linux skills for between 7 and 10 years.

That seeming stability is further buttressed by the short-term outlook of survey respondents. More than 77 percent of them don’t think there’s much chance they’ll seek employment outside of IT in the next three to five years. A similar number — 72 percent — say that it’s either likely (22.4 percent) or very likely (50 percent) that they will remain a certified Linux professional over the next three to five years.

Workplace and education

If you’re wondering where to look for Linux jobs, our pool of survey respondents is spread across 16 different employment categories. Roughly half of the Linux jobs out there, however, are seemingly focused in three workplace sectors: computer or network consulting (25.9 percent), education (13.8 percent), and government (12.1 percent of those surveyed).

Other popular employment sectors include software (5.4 percent of respondents), aerospace (5.2 percent), and telecommunications (3.8 percent).

For teens and young adults who are considering pursuing Linux as a potential career path, definitely don’t rule out higher education. Among survey respondents, 28.8 percent pursued their formal education far enough to hold a bachelor’s degree, while 32.9 percent went one step further and claimed a master’s degree.

There’s more information to come from our survey. Over the coming months, we’ll be posting additional findings online at CertMag.com, where you can also find ongoing dispatches from our 2019 Salary Survey.

Linux is thriving, but the (formerly) Little Open Source OS That Could hasn't yet steamrolled the personal computing realm.

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Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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