TECH TALK: Tech’s 10X Tsunamis: Open Source: Opening Futures

A little over 10 years ago, a Finnish programmer sparked off an unlikely revolution with this post:

Hello everybody out there using minix – I’m doing a (free) operating system (just a hobby, won’t be big and professional like gnu) for 386(486) AT clones. This has been brewing since april, and is starting to get ready. I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike in minix, as my OS resembles it somewhat (same physical layout of the file-system (due to practical reasons) among other things).

I’ve currently ported bash(1.08) and gcc(1.40), and things seem to work. This implies that I’ll get something practical within a few months, and I’d like to know what features most people would want. Any suggestions are welcome, but I won’t promise I’ll implement them 🙂 Linus (

PS. Yes – it’s free of any minix code, and it has a multi-threaded fs. It is NOT protable (uses 386 task switching etc), and it probably never will support anything other than AT-harddisks, as that’s all I have :-(.”

In September 1991, Linus Torvalds released version 0.01 of Linux.

Cut to July 2002, and Microsofts Fusion 2002 conference for developers and partners. This is what Steve Ballmer, Microsofts CEO, said:

We have prided ourselves on always being the cheapest guy on the block–we were going to be higher volume and lower priced than anybody else out there, whether it was Novell, Lotus or anybody else. One issue we have now, a unique competitor, is Linux. We haven’t figured out how to be lower priced than Linux. For us as a company, we’re going through a whole new world of thinking.

(Not that the re-thinking is impacting Microsofts bottom-line. Later in the same week, Microsoft announced yet another blockbuster quarter, even as other software companies are hurting!)

In the same week, Forbes carried a series entitled The Cult of Linux. An excerpt from one of the articles:

Look at the numbers: The first commercially packaged versions of Linux came to market only in 1994. According to IDC, Linux now accounts for an “amazing” 27% of the market for server operating systems, up from less than half of 1% in 1995. More than half of all Web servers sold today run Linux. Sales of entry-level servers (characterized as costing less than $100,000) running Linux grew in 2001, to 486,000 units worldwide, while sales of Windows NT and Unix servers declined in the same time period.

Industry leaders IBM, Oracle, Intel and others have committed resources–in IBM’s case billions of dollars–to Linux marketing, support and development. Roughly 10% of Dell Computer’s servers are sold with Linux pre-installed, according to the company.

The endorsement of such established companies helped make Linux a credible option for large customers. A mandate to cut IT costs amid the downturn also attracted customers to the free OS.

That Linux penetrated corporate America the way it has is surprising when one considers the competition: Microsoft’s Windows and Sun’s Solaris. Despite its promise and its momentum, Linux will not wipe out Unix, Windows or any other well-established technology. But like others before it–minicomputers, PCs, the Internet–Linux will likely marginalize older technologies because the value proposition is too great to ignore.

Is it disruptive to the status quo? Absolutely.

Tomorrow: Open Source (continued)

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.