In a recent interview, Linux
Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin declared Linux the victor in its decades-long war with Microsoft. Asked about the importance of MS as a continuing rival, Zemlin stated, "I think we just don't care that much [about Microsoft] anymore," Zemlin said. "They used to be our big rival, but now it's kind of like kicking a puppy."
From Zemlin's perspective, Microsoft's
continued domination of the x86 desktop/workstation market isn't the rule, but the exception. "I think that on the 20th anniversary, it's worth reflecting back on where we came from," Zemlin said in an interview with Network World. Linux had a "humble start as a project for a college student in Helsinki, to something today that runs 70% of global equity trading, something that powers, really, the majority of Internet traffic, whether it's Facebook, Google or Amazon."
What makes Zemlin's comment interesting, whether one agrees or disagrees, is the way it illustrates the tremendous change in the computer market. Ten years ago, Microsoft and Linux fought over a tripartioned battlefield of consumer products (desktops & laptops), workstations, and servers. Back in 2001, the phrase "the year of Linux on the desktop" was still being written with a straight face, but conventional wisdom held that Microsoft would continue to dominate the desktop and workstation markets.
Not pictured: Bill Gates
Conventional wisdom proved right—and wrong. While Microsoft continues to dominate its traditional strongholds, it's playing catchup in phones
and has no credible tablet OS. There are cracks in the Wintel Alliance and the company faces established opposition from both Google
Evolution of An Ecosystem:
Neither Apple nor Google have perfect open source track records. Google's decision to not release Honeycomb's source code has rankled many in the OSS community, while Zemlin acknowledges Apple's spotty record in particular: "Apple is your worst enemy and your best friend if you're an open source guy... Apple in many ways has done a lot of good things for open source and for Linux. It changed the definition of what client computing is... Apple also has a lot of open source components within their products... But I'm not going to argue that they don't have a very closed system as well."
While neither is perfect, the open source involvement of both came about because Linux provided the FOSS community with a practical development framework it couldn't create on its own. Its existence challenged conventional paradigms of software development. Zemlin really does have a point when he claims Linux has taken the fight to Microsoft everywhere
but the desktop.
It would, however, be unwise to consider Redmond out of the fight. Microsoft's recent deal with Nokia is proof of the company's financial strength. Windows Phone 7
needs work and we won't see a solid tablet-specific UI until Windows 8, but no one at MS is worrying over whether or not the company can survive such inconveniences. If Zemlin's words paint Microsoft in an amusing light, they also contain a seed of warning. Puppies, after all, eventually grow up.