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It’s Not Your Linux Anymore: Get Over It


Once upon a time, there was a community bound together by the dream of free software and building a real Unix-style operating system. But, despite the best efforts of Richard Stallman and others, that’s all it was — a dream — with only a few bits and pieces (the GNU programs) in place.

Then, along came Linus Torvalds, who took some of GNU and a bit of the academic operating system Minix and started turning the dream into reality — Linux.

Fast forward a few years and Linux has developed into a serious operating system. Hundreds of developers work on it, hundreds of thousands use it on a daily basis, and Eric Raymond and company had popularized the terms open source and Linux alongside free software.

The community grows larger by the day, and Slashdot gives it a forum. Soon, Red Hat, VA Linux, and other Linux companies soar into the Nasdaq stratosphere. The old-time users begin to grumble about how the nebulous Linux community is selling out.

Move ahead two more years to today. The developer community hasn’t grown much, but Linux users now number in the millions. The Linux firms have fallen on hard times. VA Linux suddenly abandons the hardware business.

However, Linux as a business proposition is doing better than ever. Except these days it’s companies like IBM that are leading the way. The old community has gone into an all-out whine about how Linux just isn’t what it used to be.

Guys, get over it. Linux isn’t just for hardcore techies anymore. It’s not just for those who are pure of heart in their support of the contesting gospels of Free Software and Open Source. It’s not even for those who have mostly-worthless stock options in VA Linux. Today, Linux has become as mainstream as Windows.

I know, I know; many of you in the community still want to posture about being against the demons of Microsoft. I hate to tell you this, but Linux isn’t a rebellion anymore. And, Linux was never really about good versus evil. Linux is a kick-ass-and-take-names operating system with a fascinating past and a promising future in corporate America — a future to be delivered by Fortune 500 companies like Compaq, Dell, and IBM.

I hear way too many people whining about this next step in Linux’s evolution. They’re the ones snarling that the new users are clueless jerks. They are the ones that sneer at anyone using Red Hat instead of Mandrake. In short, they’re jerks.

It’s these people who give Linux a bad name. They are absolutely certain they are doing the right thing by inflaming anyone who doesn’t praise Linux to the high heavens. And, they think that there is nothing better than to accuse anyone who says anything good about Microsoft (no matter how marginal) of spreading FUD.

Of course, what they’re really doing is alienating anyone and everyone who hasn’t picked up Linux yet. By snarling like junkyard dogs, they keep the myth of Linux as the operating system fit only for foul-mouthed, longhaired, dirty t-shirted losers alive.

The fact is, Linux was, and is, the operating system for the technically elite. Today though, it’s also the operating system for anyone in the mainstream who wants to make the most of their computing power.

In other words, the real news about Linux these days isn’t going to be reported on Linuxgram; it will likely be reported in the Wall Street Journal. LinuxWorld is a fine tradeshow, but Comdex and Networld+Interop are where Linux’s future lies.

You can cry about it if you want to. You can even e-mail me nastygrams. I’ve already got mail filters set to fire twit messages to /dev/ null set up for you. But, the simple truth is that Linux is mainstream now.

Like it or lump it, Linux’s popularity means that it also has to play by commercial rules. Frankly, it’s time to grow up. It was fun and cool to wear black and be big-bad-operating-system-rebels, but Linux is now putting on a tie — and it’s about time for us to do so as well.

A version of this story was first published in Linux Magazine.

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