Linux 2014: A different kind of computing revolution

I believe that this was a watershed year for ‘Linux’, the unfolding of a different kind of computing revolution. We had the astonishing rise of Android coupled with the just as astonishing fiasco of Microsoft surface. The rise of Docker coupled with the fall of Blackberry. Does anyone remember Symbian? I believe the linux community, from developers to users, have proved in one calendar year something quite remarkable.

 

The early pioneers of computers had to punch their program in using switches on the front of a gigantic machine – they had no data storage or programming languages. If you wanted to code a program, you had to write it out in binary – I shudder at the thought of it. You could say the first computing revolution was data storage, programming languages and compilers.

As technology moved on at a brisk pace, some people decided that the personal computer was not something the public would buy or need. Another group decided it was a no-brainer. The latter group went to the now legendary Rank Xerox demonstration, on the future of computer interfaces. At the time, the late 70’s, there was only the console – like a linux console or dos shell. The programs you used then looked line Vi or midnight commander; the Rank Xerox people demonstrated a radical new ‘graphical’ user interface: WIMP – windows, icons, mouse and pointer. Before the dust had settled you had the Mac, Atari ST, Amiga and Windows. The second computer revolution was the graphical user interface (GUI), the personal computer was born.

The third revolution, which we are living through right now is the internet. All that really means is that my computer is now connected to yours using some very complicated technology. By using the ‘net’ we agree to be connected and that just about changed the world in the last twenty years.

It changed the world so much, that a group of student and guru programmers were able to take on very large companies like Microsoft and win. Not in the sense that it was a competition, in the sense that the dominant very rich companies did not want an open-source unix clone like Linux to survive at all. To them it was a complete joke, who would use it and why?

In some ways they were right: I use Linux because it does what I need and I enjoy using it. Linux never won the desktop, Apple did by turning into a more polished Linux on intel’s chips – but that’s just my opinion. My last windows install was windows95, I was so disgusted I went to the library and found a Redhat5 disc in a book and installed it. It took about 5 hours, but I have never looked back. As I use Opensuse 13.2 I have to marvel at how far gnu/linux has come.

My main point is, given the rise of Linux on servers, Android on the mobile platform and a whole raft of software that has displaced large company software (and the decline in some ways of Microsoft), is that a group of committed, altruistic developers took on the might of Microsoft and Apple and won out. In their spare time. Yes, in their spare time. Well done guys, the last 20 years of my using and enjoying Linux have been down to you – thanks.

That is the power of the third revolution. Never think you can’t change anything-  you can.

 

 

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