Robert Hart - State of Linux

Robert Hart from Red Hat Software in the US came to speak to us last Thursday at a special LUV meeting. Over 70 people crammed into the MLC room to hear Robert give a "pre-release" version of his AUUG98 keynote speech "The State of Linux." The following is a brief summary of Robert's presentation by LUV member Mike Battersby.

The State of Linux

Linux Install Base
Robert began by talking about the number of Linux users - what they call the Linux install base. Red Hat are in one of the best positions to estimate this, and even they have no idea. Their estimate for March 1998, which Robert believes is quite conservative, is between 5 and 10 million Linux installations. He believes this number would be between 7 and 15 million installations now, and most likely about 10 million. [For comparison, there are supposedly about 200 million installations of the various Windows operating systems, worldwide - Mike.]
One survey that Red Hat quote is done by Datapro, which has been measuring OS use in commercial server machines (a very limited subset of Linux installations). They can't give figures (the survey is non-disclosure), but in this category only Linux and NT are growing their market share (although the market itself is increasing rapidly so pretty much all vendors are increasing their sales). Linux also rated highest in user satisfaction out of the operating systems analysed.Recent Developments
Robert went on to talk about recent development in the Linux world, including the recent popularity of the Open Source(tm) movement and the porting to Linux of Oracle, Ingres, Informix, Netscape and the Corel products. Red Hat have been talking to a lot of vendors, and although he couldn't say much Robert gave the impression that big things are coming for Linux.
Another interesting point is that Intel are now officially endorsing Linux, and have guaranteed that Linux will be ported to Intel's forthcoming Merced 64 bit architecture. Robert conjectured that this was because they see customers who are disappointed with Windows NT abandoning the Intel architecture in favour of Sparc, MIPS, or Alpha and by endorsing Linux they are promoting a stable, reliable alternative which keeps customers with Intel.
Other recent development mentioned include the recent huge amount of media coverage of Linux, the standardisation issues and the recent merging of the LCS into the LSB. The LSB aims to produce (a) a written standard, (b) test suites, and (c) possible a sample implementation, although Robert thinks this is a bad idea. Also mentioned was the recent availability of vendor-backed support and the importance of this, and the coolness of high-performance Linux "Beowulf" cluster. Apparently some major banks are now talking about using Beowulf, something almost unheard of in the ultra-conservative banking world.Impacts
These developments have an impact on the Linux community. Linux is now the hot software topic in the US, and is getting hotter by the day. Caution is now required to make sure that people understand Linux, how it works and what is stands for, and that the hype doesn't get out of control. For example, it must be clear to people that the Beowulf clustering is high performance, not high availability.
Other impacts are that hardware OEMs are now considering support of Linux, people such as Dell, Compaq and IBM. Linux is now becoming a mission-critical piece of IT software. Fortunately, now that the standards fight has levelled out balkanisation is no longer a problem.Potential
The press and corporate IT now see, or are starting to see, Linux as a real solution, particularly for servers. Desktop Linux is slowly coming together, as better interfaces and applications are developed. Robert forestalled any KDE vs Gnome debate by enouraging people to read Marc Ewing's paper on Red Hat's position.Predictions
Robert made some personal predictions about the future of Linux:

  • Linux version 2.2 will be released. :)
  • Intel architecture SMP will soon scale linearly to 8 processors.
  • SMP support for the Alpha will appear.
  • a journaled file system is on the way, and Stephen Tweedie is back-porting it to the 2.0 kernel series.
  • NFS will finally be solid.
  • many more commercial applications will appear. Red Hat is talking to a large number of vendors, and is also telling them that they and the Linux community really prefer open source.
  • there will be more Mozilla-type open source software.
  • PCs will be available from major vendors pre-loaded with Linux. Robert guaranteed this will happen.
  • a full OpenGL implementation based on Mesa will eventuate and be one of Linux's killer applications, especially given the poor state of OpenGL on Windows NT.

Issues and Conclusion
Robert finished up the formal presentation with a brief mention of some of the problems and issues facing Linux in the coming days. Most of the work still to be done is re-education of the community, and in particular ISVs and IT management. These people need to be shown that Linux is not a "hackers (meaning crackers to management) OS", and that it is secure and stable. Just as importantly we need to convince everyone of the value of Open Source, both to the community and to their companies.Questions
Robert fielded some questions from the masses. Here are some of them with his answers.
How do we sell Open Source to vendors?
By stressing that Open Source provides software stability and reliability far beyond not only what they could normally achieve, but also far beyond their competition.
How does Open Source software benefit games writers?
Games are probably not a good market for Open Source. Open Source is best in horizontal markets like operating systems which cover a large number of functions. Vertical markets like games would be a difficult area to make money in, except perhaps something like Civilisation which can be continually extended.
Aren't Red Hat worried about Red Hat Labs and being seen to be taking over the GNOME project?
Red Hat are definitely not taking over GNOME. They are providing programming support but GNOME is controlled completely outside Red Hat. They are also not pushing GNOME above all else. If something better comes along they will use it regardless of having put programmers into GNOME. However, they did spend considerable time investigating where to go with the desktop and believe GNOME is by far the best option. They want to build a Linux desktop for a long term future.
What is happening with the Red Hat certification program?
It has been largely on hold as Robert has been too busy. He is in the process of handing it off to someone else and it should be going in early 1999.


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