Linux Foundation chief reflects on 25 years of open source

Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, took the state at LinuxCon this week to address the evolution of the open source OS and look back on its history.

Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, reflected upon the 25 years of Linux.

Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation, reflected upon the 25 years of Linux.

Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

"We made it. 25 years. Quite an accomplishment." Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, kick started LinuxCon NA in Toronto today with this quote.

Impressive history for Linux

On August 25, 1991, Linux Torvalds announced Linux, an OS he believed wouldn't be as popular or professional as GNU. But in 25 years, Linux has grown much bigger than expected.

"Linux today is the most successful software project in history," Zemlin said. "Thousands of developers creating billions of dollars of software value. Linux goes beyond the code, it has also become the world's most widely adopted software. It dominates almost every field ranging from small IoT devices to the high performance computing market. In a nutshell, Linux runs the global economy quite literally."

It's not just the adoption of Linux that's so impressive, it's the pace at which it is being developed. "10,800 lines of code added, 5,300 lines of code removed, and 1,800 lines of code modified on average every single day, 365 days a year, every year, and this pace is only accelerating," Zemlin said. "Linux now changes seven, eight times an hour. There is no single software project by any single person or organization that rivals the breadth, pace, depth, adoption of Linux. What an incredible run."

But what does the success of Linux mean, and what has it proven? Being the twenty-fifth anniversary of Linux, Zemlin asked, "What is it that Linux has really taught the world beyond the fact that open source is a better, faster, cheaper way to produce software?"

Zemlin said Linux, and open-source movement and community have delivered a better way to define the future. "All of us are smarter than any one of us," he said. "Today you literally cannot make anything by building all the software you need by yourself. Today the vast majority of code in any modern technology product or service is open source. It is essential for competition in that the central nature of using open source for competition also betters everybody else, so that folks can invest in things that matter to their customers or to themselves, and share the vast majority of software that needs to be written, because there is just too much software to be written for any single organization or person to write themselves."

Beyond technology and code, the success of Linux also proved that "you can better yourself by bettering others at the same time," according to Zemlin.

It's not just about the current generation. Linux also influences and inspires the next generation, Zemlin said, and provided the example of Zachary DuPont, who calls Torvalds his hero and was flown to a LinuxCon by the Linux Foundation so he could meet his hero. Kids like him are inspired by the work the open source community is doing.

What the future holds for Linux

So where does Linux go from here?

"I want to tell all of you that open and sharing is here to stay," Zemlin said. "It's not just Linux. It's way beyond that. Linux is the inspiration, but now we've entered into a new era. There are millions of open source contributors worldwide, billions of lines of code across thousands of open source repositories, hundreds of companies being started based on open, shared technologies. Over ten of those are worth more than a billion dollars. Billions of dollars more are being invested into a future that is based on sharing. That is a tremendous accomplishment."

Historically, the first generation of open source companies was basically emulating software technology of the past and trying to make it free and shared, according to Zemlin, to take the market and make it more affordable and accessible. But that has changed. Today open source is not emulating the past, it's changing and defining the future, he said.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

To comment on this article and other CIO content, visit us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.
Related:
Download the CIO October 2016 Digital Magazine
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.