Originally Published: Thursday, 6 January 2000 Author: Christopher Repesh
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

The Era of Commodity Operating Systems

What is a commodity? It is an article of trade - anything meeting a need. Its Latin origin is commodus, which means "fit." The last 12 months of the burgeoning Linux movement have seen story after story of Linux "fitting" the bill for a wide variety of computing solutions. There are no strings attached and no homage to be paid....

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What is a commodity? It is an article of trade - anything meeting a need. Its Latin origin is commodus, which means "fit." The last 12 months of the burgeoning Linux movement have seen story after story of Linux "fitting" the bill for a wide variety of computing solutions. There are no strings attached and no homage to be paid.

The best accomplishment is sharing solutions and spreading the word in hopes of providing services to the ever widening base of users of a peer-reviewed, continually evolving operating system. If ISA, PCI, and IDE are what make PC hardware commodity goods, then Linux and its push for open standards such as GCC and the Internet protocols will be what makes thin client, server, and workstation software commodity goods.

The GNU GPL license is important for this to happen, but the acceptance of non-proprietary APIs, protocols, and file formats is even more important. Do not forget that the spread of Microsoft is accomplished more through an acceptance of it as a "standard" than anything else. The licens removes the restrictions on software propagation, but even with prohibitive license agreements with Microsoft products, many Windows copies out there are bootlegged.

Just imagine how far Linux can go without the stigma of unauthorised distribution. With multiple vendors providing essentially the same software, the ISV (independent software vendor) industry is primed to explode with offerings for all facets of the computing economy. Think of companies that start off purchasing distributions, tailoring them for specific applications, and turning around and selling their solutions in a custom distribution. This is a completely new paradigm that makes Microsoft inevitably just another player, not the player for everyone.

Evidence of this abounds in the approach that the Linux players take in cooperating with the Microsoft monopoly. They support DOS/FAT formats, provide tools for file/print serving interoperability on networks, and emulate the Win32 API so that Microsoft software runs in the X Window environment. Linux players are incorporating the large installed base of Windows users with minimal similar response from Microsoft. It is not hard to see an irrelevance of Microsoft products if these trends continue.

Couple this with the recently published findings of the United States court system and leading industry observers on the inherent illegalities of Microsoft business practices, and you see a psychological shifting of developers toward less entangling tools and environments.

The stampede of investors to Linux companies is a response to the economic shifting afforded by the free Unix movement. The greatest minimal cost of operating system ever achieved with no monolithic corporate control (regardless of what is said about Red Hat) is providing the common tongue of the true information revolution to come. Anyone who spends their objective time comparing the free Unix movement with software generations of the past will quickly realize that it is the accommodating nature of Linux that will spread the benefit and wealth to the many and not the few. The weight is upon us.

Christopher Repesh has written graphical user interface applications for numerical research codes, as well as finite difference pre-processors and computation loops for solving electromagnetic field problems. He has developed native code solutions for both Win32 API and the X Window libraries, as well as cross-platform scripting solutions using TCL/TK, Perl, and JavaScript. He would like to pursue embedded Linux technology for a variety of applications. He also likes to use Linux as much as he can.





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