As the Web expands, so does Linux. And Redmond may not be able to keep up.
When Linus Torvalds began working on the code that would eventually become Linux, he posted his intentions on Usenet’s comp.os.minix newsgroup (see http://www.linux.org/people/linus_post.html). The rest, as it’s said, is (surprisingly recent) history… Via the Internet, additional developers joined the project, sharing expertise, exchanging code, and collaborating on an unprecedented scale. And as the Internet expanded, so did Linux. Today, in a kind of reciprocation, Linux and open source now power a good portion of the Internet. According to some estimates, for example, the Apache HTTP Web Server has nearly twice as many deployments as Microsoft’s IIS, and that little Web site called Google leverages open source operating systems and packages.
Certainly, the Internet remains essential to ongoing Linux development, and the Linux, Apache, MySQL, Pick Your Favorite Language (Perl, PHP, Python, Ruby, among others) stack is a powerful foundation for a large variety of applications. But traditional LAMP software — content management systems, shopping carts, and system monitoring dashboards, for instance — are only harbingers. As more and more complex software moves from the desktop to the Web, more and more companies will adopt LAMP as infastructure.
Does your customer care that your online payroll management application is written in Python? That your underlying server operating system is Debian? That your CPU’s are Opterons? That your machines are blade servers and are painted big blue? No, customers pay little or no attention to such details. If you’re able to provide superior uptime, satisfactory response times, noteworthy features, all at a reasonable price, your application could run on an ancient (c. 1994) Apple Newton (see http://newton.splorp.com: 8080/) over a wireless connection in your backpack.
Increasingly, LAMP is a bullet on a data sheet, listed somewhere well below the umpteen novel features the software, hardware, or application service vendor is touting. The wizard behind the curtain could be Windows, but it could just as easily be Linux. (Need proof? Witness the successes of the Asterisk VoIP PBX, SugarCRM, and the Squeezebox.)
Commodity computing will only hasten emmigration from Redmond. Inexpensive servers, blades, and virtualization expand capacity cheaply. Indeed, as high performance computing has already demonstrated (see the related feature story on page 34), a server farm and Linux make a capable, symbiotic solution. And even if your service requires big iron, you need not be handcuffed to Solaris or another Unix — or Oracle. Linux and other open source solutions run fine on enterprise-class hardware.
Of course, not every application is suited to central hosting, and, regardless, desktops won’t ever go away. But neither will the Web. And with telecommunications giants and mass media (finally!) preparing to deliver the entire expanse of the Web to a new generation of wireless devices (many of which run Linux, such as the Nokia 770, http://www.nokia.com/770), the World Wide Web may again scale Linux to new heights.

Martin Streicher is the Editor-in-Chief of Linux Magazine.

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