In this week’s edition of TLWIR, I will take a look at the continuing twentieth anniversary celebration of our beloved GNU/Linux operating system. I will also look at Microsoft’s olive branch extended to the Linux community. In yet another surprising turn of events, the U.S. Department of Defense has released its own GNU/Linux distribution. Finally, I will look at the increasing “biodiversity” in the free software environment, and how Linux and other free operating systems benefit from this diversity. Here are the three main stories featured this week:
- Linux Kernel 3.0.0 Celebrates 20 Years of Linux.
- U.S. DoD Loves Linux, Creates Its Own Distro.
- Increasing Diversity Favors Open Source Operating Systems.
Linux Kernel 3.0.0 Celebrates 20 Years of Linux
Version 3.0.0 of the ubiquitous Linux kernel recently made its debut to a great deal of fanfare. The new kernel version coincides with the twentieth anniversary of Linux. However, Linus Torvalds himself admits that the new version of the kernel is not a major upgrade. The new number is largely the result of the old 2.6.x numbers becoming too large and cumbersome. Most of the changes in version 3.0.0 are related to drivers, power management, networking, and virtualization. One major addition is that the Xen hypervisor is now supported directly by the kernel, vice a kernel module. Zen now joins KVM in enjoying full kernel support. Version 2.6 of the Linux kernel had been growing pretty long in tooth, having been released in December of 2003. Since then, 39 major revisions of the 2.6 kernel have been released.
Microsoft recently released a semi-congratulatory olive branch video directed at the Linux Foundation. It appears to be a congratulations on 20 years of Linux, and perhaps a desire to bury some of the bad blood between the two organizations. I suspect that the large number of companies joining the Linux Foundation may have helped to convince Microsoft to extend the olive branch. Will Redmond really commit to forming a relationship with the Linux community? Only time will tell. Here is to twenty more years of the great GNU/Linux operating system.
U.S. DoD Loves Linux, Creates Its Own Distro
It is no secret that, given the budgetary difficulties within the U.S. government, the U.S. Department of Defense has been looking to find ways to do more with less. Free software and open source have provided a means for the DoD to reduce its software development and support costs. Free software is slowly making an inroads into DoD systems. What better way to embrace Linux than to create your own Linux distro? That is exactly what the Department of Defense has done.
The new Linux distribution is known as LPS, Lightweight Portable Security, and it is geared towards DoD employees that telecommute. Telecommuting is a growing phenomenon among many businesses; a telecommuter is basically a worker who works from home. The DoD and other organizations are beginning to favor an expansion of worker telecommuting due to several obvious advantages:
Several large metropolitan areas with a sizable number of DoD employees have so much rush hour traffic that workers often spend 10% or more of their workday in their cars or on public transportation. This time is largely a waste of resources.
The increased push towards cloud computing makes telecommuting more practical today than it has ever been.
Free, secure operating systems, such as GNU/Linux and FreeBSD, make tele-communications far more viable than they were 10 or 15 years ago.
Workers are more computer savvy than they have ever been.
The DoD took a page from the Live CD/Google playbook in developing the OS. The system is designed to boot into the operating system from a bootable cd. This is a great choice, from a security standpoint. The cd containing the OS is read-only, so in the very unlikely event that the computer was infected with malware (malware is still extremely rare in the GNU/Linux environment), the OS cd would remain free of infection. In most cases, the malware would only live in volatile RAM, where it would “die” when the computer was turned off. The reason that I cite Google as a possible inspiration for the DoD is this: the Google Chromebook similarly cleans the system if any problems are noted. The OS on the Chromebook can be almost instantly repaired or replaced if any problems occur.
The DoD embracing Linux is a wonderful development. This may also be another sign to Microsoft and others that it is time to make friends with Linux. Linux is not going anywhere anytime soon.
Increasing Diversity Favors Open Source Operating Systems
The modern global climate is showing increased diversity in all regards. The world is not becoming simpler, it is becoming infinitely more complex. One can see this increasing diversity by looking at mobile devices: Android, Iphone, Windows Phone 7, Nokia, tablets, e-book readers etc. The number of choices are almost overwhelming; many may even wish for the return of the good old days of monopolies. Alas, those days are long gone, to never return; at least as far as computing is concerned. More and more, companies are realizing that there is no homogeneous, one-size-fits-all operating system. Here is where free software and the open source model become so useful: you write a base operating system once (such as GNU/Linux), and allow a community to help you rewrite the applicable parts of the OS to adapt it to a plethora of devices. In the recent series of TLWIR articles, I cited this is a method of working smarter, not harder. If our friends in Redmond had open sourced its ubiquitous operating system under an ethical license (such as the GNU GPL) a decade ago, they would have had a tablet OS, mobile OS, and any other required OS versions ready a long time ago. However, it is better to learn late than to never learn at all. The future lies in diverse, open platforms. It is interesting to note that technology mirrors biology: diversity always wins in the end.
Why is diversity important? It keeps us from becoming lazy. If everybody speaks the same language, our brains never develop the flexibility and acumen to translate and interpret. If there were one OS, no one would sit down and do the work of making different systems interoperable. The ultimate dream (in my humble opinion) would be a future where every device could talk to every other device that the owner wants it to talk to. My car should be able to wirelessly connect to my phone and play my music, regardless of who manufactured the phone or the car. If the clock on my phone is more accurate than the one in my car, my car should be smart enough to synchronize to the phone…seamlessly. I think that this is the future that we are headed for: one where the operating system or the manufacturer really doesn’t matter. We are already there when it comes to wireless routers. Most people have absolutely no idea what operating system runs on their router. Most people see Netgear, Linksys, and Belkin routers as equivalent. They know that when they plug a wireless router in, it just works. It will be a wonderful day when we get to that level with personal computing devices.
Why is open source such an advantage in regards to diversity? Imagine this scenario, you have a great idea to connect you mobile phone to your PlayStation 3, and use it as a remote controller. Your task would be much easier if you had the source code to the software running on the PS 3. People favor the path of least resistance. If one popular gaming device runs on open source software, while another popular gaming device does not, programmers will favor the open platform. The closed devices will end up isolated. Open, commoditized platforms are truly the wave of the future.
All that I hope for Linux is a continued, steady, and slow progress. I am far beyond being impressed by flash-in-pan attractions full of bells and whistles. Real success is embodied by a constant and continued dedication to progress. Linux has continued to progress unabated throughout its twenty years of existence. More importantly, people respect Linux. One story that I did not discuss in this week’s edition is Microsoft’s recent decision to extend their partnership with SUSE Linux. Taken in the context of the olive branch video extended to the Linux Foundation, it is very clear that Redmond has decided (at least at some level) that “they can’t beat them, so they had better join them.” I find this to be a very encouraging development. Our instincts tell us that life is a zero sum game: if I win, someone else must lose. However, I believe that we are coming to the realization that there IS room from everyone to succeed, especially if we stop duplicating each others work, and share some of the more fundamental concepts and constructs.
I wish you all a wonderful week until the next edition of The Linux Week in Review!
Jackson, J. (2011, July 22). Linux 3.0 a steady step forward. PC World. Retrieved July 24, 2011, from http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/236317/linux_30_a_steady_step_forward.html
Jackson, J. (2011, July 25). Microsoft extends suse linux partnership. PC World. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/236498/microsoft_extends_suse_linux_partnership.html
Montalbano, E. (2011, July 22). Not your average linux distribution: dod’s flavor. Information Week. Retrieved July 25, 2011, from http://www.informationweek.com/news/government/security/231002431