What Will the Next Generation of Linux Look Like?

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Linux is sort of like the quiet cousin that everyone thought was sweet and nice but never paid much attention to. You know, the cousin who ended up making a fortune in the dot-com bubble and got out before it exploded with all his chips intact? Not that Linux has done that exactly, but by one account the next generation of Linux will offer the public even more options. Of course, options are what make technology and its continual innovations so grand, especially when referencing source code that’s free to use and deploy with the proper license.


Bill von Hagen, senior product manager at TimeSys Corp., a service provider for the embedded Linux market, said that as more powerful hardware emerges, Linux will continue to develop device drivers or kernel capabilities to take advantage of that hardware. “A good example of that is the multi-core CPUs that are now emerging from vendors such as AMD, Intel and Freescale,” he said. “Those enable true simultaneous processing on single systems, so growing into the capabilities of those types of processes will be a big area.”


That area of Linux growth is more from the server or embedded environment perspective. From a desktop perspective, von Hagen said that more and more devices will be supported by Linux on the software side as things such as accessibility and systems technology for people with vision or mobility problems, or those otherwise outside the scope of the traditional IT professional, demand inclusion and the level of development maturity apparent in other desktop operating systems. “There are companies delivering packaged solutions so that you can go to a Wal-Mart or whatever and buy a Linux box. I don’t know about your grandmother, but to have my grandmother using a Linux box, it has to be pretty easy to use and pretty straightforward,” von Hagen said. “I think developing the increased friendliness and accessibility on the desktop is just a natural thing as the desktop market for Linux continues to expand.”


Linux also is improving support for core processes such as symmetric multi-processing. Machines with multiple physical processors are becoming more popular for use with clustering technologies. Von Hagen points to the increasing presence of virtualization and virtual machine environments such as well-known VMWare and Xen, a virtualization environment that allows an administrator to run multiple instances of an operating system on a single hardware platform. “This is certainly attractive to companies that have to have large numbers of systems available, such as ISPs or anyone who needs to have a lot of machines around, whether they’re virtual or physical,” von Hagen said. “Hand to hand with the CPU virtualization and things like Xen, there is an increasing tendency toward storage virtualization and underlying systems such as logical volume management. There are a number of logical volume management projects going on in the Linux space, and certainly I think hand and hand with the clustering you’re going to see more emphasis on high-speed network-oriented storage and network file systems. ATA over Ethernet is a big thing just like SCSI over Ethernet is quite popular. The cost of that kind of hardware is going to drop, and I think you’ll see more and more support for that because those are all classic requirements of the server environment, which Linux is perfect for.”


Furthermore, von Hagen said the competitive spirit present in the Linux market is another indicator of its growth potential. Microsoft’s NXT program was announced recently, and while von Hagen thinks it would be silly for server vendors to take advantage of a program designed to get ISVs to move away from Linux to Windows server technology, he said the fact companies are focusing their attention on ISVs generally indicates the growth of services and independent software vendors in the Linux space. “Here at TimeSys we provide online, Web-based services for embedded development to help people create custom Linux platforms for new hardware and changing project requirements,” he said. “That’s a business model that I see many companies moving toward, providing more services oriented toward Linux. It used to be that you would sort of rent a nerd to try to get your Linux work done. Now there’s more and more competition. People understand that Linux is a viable model across the board and can provide the services that people need to use in an enterprise or any kind of environment. If there’s money to be made, then there’s competition in that market. Therefore competition has to be viewed as a good thing.”


–Kellye Whitney, kellyew@certmag.com

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