The Linux Penguin
The Silent Triumph of Linux
Cell phones, businesses, critical environments, and the infrastructure of the Web all function with this system
El País: Linux, el triunfo silencioso
Laia Reventós reporting from Barcelona April 22, 2012
When you navigate the Internet, you use Linux. When you search on Google, gossip on Facebook, or play with your Android phone (850,000 of those are activated each day), you also use this operating system. When you see a movie on an airplane, take money from a teller, or make a long-distance phone call…yes, Linux is at the heart of multiple daily activities, even though you aren’t conscious of it.
The most installed open source operating system in the world and the motor of free software still is not massively installed in desktop computers, where Windows reigns with 92% of the market. That is the same share it had in the 90s, when Linus Torvalds (born in Helsinki in 1969) developed Linux. On Friday, Technology Academy Finland recognized its compatriot for creating a system which has had “a great impact on the development of open source programs, work on the Internet, and the opening of the Web to make it accessible to millions of people.”
Torvalds was a 21-year old student of computer engineering at the University of Helsinki in 1991. In his room, he began “a small project. It was something fun to help my learning, but it ended up having everything an operating system is supposed to have.”
The youth released the first version of Linux on the Internet, and word of mouth did the rest for a system protected by the General Public License (GPL), which permits its use, copying, modification, and free distribution. As opposed to other systems, Linux has improved thanks to collaboration. Close to 8000 developers and 800 companies have contributed to its 15 million lines of code since 2005. The Iliad had 15,000 lines. Every three months, a new version of the core system is released under Torvalds’s supervision.
“Linux was the first modifiable operating system that could be installed and used by anyone,” explains Miguel Jaque, director of Spain’s National Open Source Technology Center (CENATIC). “You could find out how its code worked. The secret was out. And that allowed the peak of free software to begin.”
Twenty years later, the system still has not gatecrashed domestic computing (it has a 0.98% worldwide market share according to Netmarketshare), but it rules mobile phones, businesses, data centers, critical environments, and the infrastructure of the web. 80% of stock transactions have the penguin symbol beneath them. Even televisions and cars use it. 25% of their costs are for software, and in four years the proportion will be 75%. For that reason, giants like General Motors, BMW, Hyundai, PSA Peugeot Citroën, and Renault-Nissan have constructed an open platform for entertainment and information systems (the GENIVI Alliance).
In Spain, the management and education communities have led Linux’s advance. 83% of public organizations have some kind of open software installed for them. Don’t forget that Extremadura took the lead in providing computers for its students with its Linex system in 2003; it just don’t preach about it much. This tide has swept to seven other Autonomous Communities, including Andalusia and Catalonia (Lincat). The Andalusian system Guadalinex now serves 1.8 million students in 5882 schools with a network of 640,000 PCs and 4200 servers.
What are the advantages? “It reduces costs because the license is free; you can change providers without problems, and you can personalize all the components,” says Jaque. Munich City Hall has saved a third of its technological budget (€4 million) thanks to Linux, and now, in a time of crisis, it could save more if its civil services “save and reuse their computing resources.” In 2011, according to CENATIC, 46% of civil services created their own programs, but only 18% set them free.