Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: 2010s: The Decade in Review

Linux and open-source rules: 2019's five biggest stories show why

This was the year when, once and for all, it became clear that the future of technology belongs to Linux and open-source software.

Why 2019 was the year of Linux and open-source software

I've covered Linux and open source since Linus Torvalds was a grad student and before "open source" was a thing or, for that matter, before "free software" was its frenemy. From those very early days when Richard M. Stallman created the GNU General Public License (GPL), one of the main narratives was small plucky us--open-source and Linux supporters--versus the enormous, proprietary corporate them--with The Evil Empire Microsoft as enemy number one. That story is as out of touch with reality as a Hallmark Christmas movie is with small town economies

People still love that story, but let's look at 2019's biggest Linux and open stories and you'll see what I mean.

1. IBM buys Red Hat for $34-Billion

Exhibit number one is IBM acquiring Red Hat in the biggest software company acquisition ever. True, IBM was one of Linux's earliest supporters and, as I predicted, rather than IBM consuming Red Hat, Red Hat has remained an independent barony in Big Blue's corporate kingdom. But, the bottom line remains: The world's leading Linux company now belongs to the company number 34 on the Fortune 500. 

2. Clouds run on open source

A decade ago clouds were more marketing hot air than reality. Today, IDC says more than a third of all IT spending worldwide is on the cloud. Looking ahead, Gartner predicts that half of global enterprises will have gone all-in on the cloud by 2021. 

And, what does the cloud run on? Ding! Ding! Ding! That's right, it runs on Linux. Even Microsoft Azure has now admitted that Linux runs more than 50 percent of Azure workloads.  On top of Linux, the vast majority of cloud services are run on open-source programs.  Which leads to...

3. Clouds vs. open source

The latest variation of good little open-source firms versus bad big companies is plucky open-source database company against evil cloud giant (read Amazon Web Services). Indeed this one was given new life by a recent New York Times article on how AWS dominates the open-source cloud database world.  This view was summed up by MariaDB CEO Michael Howard, who noted that big proprietary cloud companies were "strip-mining open-source technologies and companies."

That sounds dramatic, but open-source software, by definition, has always been available for anyone to use. As the Open Source Initiative (OSI), backed by its partners such Debian, Mozilla, and The Document Foundation, said, "Without this single, standard definition of 'open source' software development as we know it would not be possible. Big companies, small businesses, people who are your best buddies, folks you hate everyone, can use your open-source code.

But, there's another element of the story, which most people miss. The conflict is not between poor little open-source DBMS companies such as Elastic, MariaDB, and Redis and rich big cloud companies. It's between the venture capitalists backing those DBMS businesses to the tune of eight and nine figures vs the billion-dollar cloud powers. In short, this is a battle between big businesses. It just happens that open-source software is in the middle. Check out who's really calling the shots at these companies on Crunchbase and you'll see what I mean. 

4. Clouds, Kubernetes, and Containers, Oh My!

No matter what program you're running on a cloud, odds are it's in a container. While Docker's wheels fell off, it's easy-to-use container breakthrough technology dominates IT. When it comes to how people are managing those containers, Kubernetes, the container orchestration program, has overwhelmed all other administration tools. Nothing else even comes close.

Everyone knows this.  Besides all the major public cloud vendors, all the major IT vendors-- HPE, IBM, VMware, etc., etc--all have Kubernetes releases. 

And, what kind of program is Kubernetes? Yes, that's right. It too is open source. 

5. Microsoft is an open-source company.

Finally. the Evil Empire isn't so evil anymore. I've been saying it for years now. Steve Ballmer's running an NBA team these days, not Microsoft. Microsoft is a de facto open-source company

In 2019, Microsoft dumped its proprietary Edge browser for a new open-source version,  which is based on Chromium. It also is releasing its Teams groupware program on--believe it or not--desktop Linux. Microsoft has also strongly hinted that the rest of Office--via Office 365 I'm sure--will be showing up on Linux. Microsoft also has its own Linux distribution, Windows SubSystem for Linux 2.0, which runs in concert with Windows 10. 

In other words, as Linus Torvalds told me at the Linux Plumbers Conference earlier this year: "The whole anti-Microsoft thing was sometimes funny as a joke, but not really. Today, they're actually much friendlier. I talk to Microsoft engineers at various conferences, and I feel like, yes, they have changed, and the engineers are happy. And they're like really happy working on Linux. So, I completely dismissed all the anti-Microsoft stuff."

After all, as Torvalds said, "If Microsoft ever does applications for Linux it means I've won." Guess what? He won. 

And, so has Linux and open source. Today, with the exception of Apple and Windows desktop everyone uses open-source software for everything. And, as we've seen, even Windows now is getting more Linux and open-source friendly by the day. In 2020, the story is Linux and open-source software rules, while the others drool. 

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