Can You Afford Not to Know Linux

A split is beginning to emerge in the computer world between programmers who use Linux and open source, and end users who run Windows. This is not a fait accompli yet, only a trend. But increasingly, we find Linux on the backend, Windows on the desktop. If you are a programmer, then you are creating the apps run on the backend. Though Windows still has majority piece of this pie, it is a shrinking piece, and one that has an uncertain future. For programmers, this means that knowing Linux and following the Open Source community is not just an option, but more and more of a necessity.

Cutting edge technology companies that produce big results in the real world often use Linux. You’ve probably read about Industrial Light and Magic using Linux. Publishers are starting to use Linux when they create books.

IDC states that Linux has a 24% share of the server market today, and will have 33% share in 2007. That compares with a 59% share of the market currently owned by Microsoft. The total market for Linux based devices is currently at 11 billion dollars, and is expected to grow to 35.7 billion dollars by 2008.

So we find that increasingly, Linux is showing up on servers. On the desktop, however, the Linux 3% market share still lags behind even the struggling Mac. Nevertheless, the Linux share of the desktop is expected to grow to 6 percent by 2007. If that trend continues, it will mirror Moore’s law, with the Linux share of the desktop doubling every two years. That means Windows will continue to dominate the desktop world for some time. Nevertheless, almost certainly it will be the technical users who will be switching to the more flexible Linux desktop, and the end users who lag behind, bound by their allegiance to the familiar.

IT and Foreign Markets

If you work as a programmer, you no doubt have noticed that one by one, many of the major corporations in the world are running their IT departments on Linux. They may give the end users in the company Windows boxes for desktop use, but the apps that run the big corporations are increasingly being built on Linux. Doc Searls over at the Linux Journal has been documenting this process, reporting how many of the biggest Fortune 500 companies are increasingly reliant on Linux for doing the heavy lifting in IT, while Windows is still out there on the desktop.

Many of the programmers I know run Linux, and use OpenOffice, Firefox, Mozilla, Apache, Eclipse, JEdit, and other open source tools. When they go home for vacation, their help their less tech savvy parents and sibs configure their Windows boxes and Microsoft applications.

Driving this trend toward open source is the movement by governments such as China, which has already adopted Linux, to smaller countries like Venezuela, who are considering making the move to free software . As entire nations start running on open source software, it will become increasingly difficult for others to resist the inevitable.

If this trend continues, then in 5 years, most technical developers will be running Linux. After all, the percentage of servers running Linux is 24% now, and will be 33% in 2007, but 2010, it is easy to imagine over 50% of the servers running Linux. As a rule, when the tech savvy people pick up a trend, it is not long before the end users start to follow. We may soon reach the time when nearly all new IT development will be done on Linux, and Windows boxes will be kept around in IT shops primarily for legacy purposes. When that day comes, the future will be all about knowing Linux and open source.