I apologize for sounding like a typical lame pundit, but 2006 was the Year of Linux. I never said that before—I was waiting until it became true.
For the majority of life events, there are no dramatic turning points that initiate radical changes. Most things are evolutionary, especially Linux and the whole Free/Open Source software world. Coding and running computer systems is just plain old work. A single Eureka! moment for a programmer means weeks or months or more of hard work. I suppose headlines need drama, but the reality for Linux is progress has been rapid and steady, and dramatic in non-dramatic ways: steady increases in uptake, and steady improvements in performance and features.
2006 was no exception, but there were some significant milestones in acknowledging that yes, Linux and FOSS do exist, and yes, they are quite suitable, and even superior, for the enterprise. Of course we've known that for years, but getting the word out against the tsunamis of propaganda, misinformation, and FUD hasn't been easy.
The Biggest Event
The Novell-Microsoft deal, as distasteful as it is to a lot of observers, is the crowning seal of Linux approval. The biggest purveyor of anti-Linux and anti-FOSS propaganda, misinformation and FUD made a deal with a Linux vendor. Whatever the merits of the deal itself, this is a gigantic validation of Linux in the enterprise. Microsoft is playing in the FOSS ballpark now, and it doesn't matter how reluctantly, or how much they try to twist the rules and change the game. You can't buy this kind of exposure. PHBs everywhere are looking at this and thinking "Huh. Microsoft does Linux, whatever that is. I better have some too."
Another significant event was Sun converting the Java license to the GPL, adding it to their array of open source server-side applications, including Solaris. Whatever your personal opinion of Java, Sun's Java has long been the standard. It can now be legally bundled with Linux, and it should put IBM's and Microsoft's Java implementations out to pasture for good.
Virtualization is all the rage, especially the kind that let admins run mixed operating systems on a single server. Finally, hardware virtualization comes to the x86 platform, thanks to Intel and AMD. This is huge - this arena has long been ruled by IBM's expensive mainframes. Now we little people get to play. Virtualization is going to be dominated by open source operating systems like Linux, Solaris, FreeBSD, and others as they get up to speed, because they are not encumbered by restrictive, complex, too-expensive licenses, and insane lock-in policies. It will be an attractive migration tool that allows users to migrate from Windows to Linux, for example, at their own pace. Just like dual-booting, but with the advantage of having both operating systems to use at the same time.
In the long-timid world of Tier 1 (HP, IBM, Dell) vendors, desktop and peripheral support continue to grow. All the Tier 1 vendors brag about their Linux server offerings, but anything else has been very slow in coming. But it's happening, and there is no turning back.
Hewlett-Packard has blatantly supported Linux on printers and multi-function devices for a few years. Now they are offering Red Hat workstations, and claim that all of their Personal Workstations support Linux. Just like their printers, they even post a matrix showing exactly what is supported. They're even making noises about Linux laptops. For all of this, I can almost forgive them for being paranoid spymasters.
Dell has a long history of making lot of noise about loving the penguin, but when you get to their Web site they bait-and-switch you. Links don't work, or they go to pages that sing the praises of Windows and don't even mention Linux. Or they give you FreeDOS. But even Dell is finally inching into the Linux desktop market for real. Though I'm puzzled why they have an image of a young girl leaping off a pier. Poor thing, did trying to purchase a Linux PC from Dell drive her into despondency?
Buying Real Linux Computers
Of course there are many places to purchase computers, both with Linux pre-installed and bare boxes with no operating system and no Windows tax. Check out the The Pre-Installed Linux Vendor Database. Hurrah to the fine folks who put this together- it's way overdue. Vote with your dollars, because that's the only language businesses understand.
Back Here at the ENP Ranch
Looking back over the Enterprise Networking Planet archives for the year, one thing stands out: both Charlie Schluting (ENP's ace Cisco, Unix, and networking dude) and I approach computing from the same perspective: running mixed networks, and knowing what you are doing. Oh right, you say, hit me with the blindingly obvious. Well, it's not that obvious, because I still bill out more hours for cleaning up other people's messes than I do for just doing work. I shall refrain from ranting about admins who have more ability at acquiring certifications than skills, though Charlie likes to say his articles fill in the gaps for those certificate holders.
"Interoperability" is the buzzword for 2007, and just like we've always done, ENP will continue to cover all aspects of network and system administration in the real world.
The bad news is our fair-use rights, civil liberties, and personal privacy are under relentless attack, with no help in sight. But you don't need me to wail about all this, so I shall move on to my
Small mobile devices are the future of computing. Someday a mobile phone will also be a full-fledged PC that does everything a desktop computer can do today. Because personal computing will become a service, with the processing power, data storage, and system administration all handled by service providers. Reliable voice-recognition technologies will be the tipping point, because (obviously) trying to do complex tasks on a phone keypad is nuts. About as much fun as Web-surfing or watching movies on a two-inch screen.
What about that two-inch screen, you ask? No one can write letters and parse spreadsheets and create horrid PowerPoint slide shows on a tiny telephone screen. Duh, the phones of the future will have holographic projectors.
So the world will be even fuller of babbling idiots on telephones bumping blindly into everything, and normal people like you and me who enjoy peace and quiet are going to go on slapping-faces-and-breaking-phones rampages. Some will hail us as liberators. Some will call us just plain nuts.
- "June is Busting Out All Over", classic Rodgers & Hammerstein song from the musical Carousel. The all-time great joyous song.