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[Discuss] Why use Linux?

This discussion reminds me of that time a number of years ago when RMS crashed
one of our BLU meetings to make exactly that point: when referring to Linux,
he'd prefer that we call it the GNU/Linux system rather than just Linux.

I've got a long enough history with this that I remember debating with RMS
whether software engineers should draw salaries even before the GPL was
invented, and I remember the battle between him, Unipress, and one of my
long-ago coworkers about the right to make money off Emacs.

It's true that RMS and the FSF changed the world of software as we know it, in
a truly fundamental way.  Getting the MacArthur Fellowship 30 years ago gave
credibility not just to RMS but to the entire concept of open-sourcing, and
not incidentally supplied seed capital to secure the FSF's place in the world.

Then Linus came along in 1991, and the Apache software foundation, and Marc
Andreeson, and many other luminaries.  Back in the 1980s and 90s, the
epicenter of open-source software very much included greater Boston.

But I felt that epicenter shift rapidly westward after Bolt Beranek and Newman
lost out to cisco Systems in the Internet backbone connectivity business, and
today many if not most of the people involved in open-source software hail
from the Bay Area rather than greater Boston.  (I'm reminded today of one
open-source coder who not long ago migrated the opposite direction: a fellow
by the name of Kohsuke Kawaguchi is now on the payroll of Massachusetts saas
provider Cloudbees... as you can imagine, I and my coworkers just spent the
past hour cursing bugs in Jenkins. ;-)

I guess I'm posting this to ask the Linux community not what happened 20 or 30
years ago, but rather:  what have you done for me lately?

I think if you go back to the first question as posed on the Subject line, why
use Linux, the debates of the 1980s/1990s about who contributed what to the
cause are truly immaterial.  The question really is, has it come far enough to
replace its rivals?  In what situation would I use Linux vs. something else?

For embedded systems like set-top boxes and Android tablets/mobile devices,
it's clear: Linux has fully displaced most of its rivals.  For cloud services
provisioned on Amazon AWS, I can say the same thing.  For desktop, I like it
myself as a replacement for Windows, and have come close to replacing Windows
as the primary household desktop for other users, but still--I wind up typing
this message on my work MacBook and others at my house rely on Windows
desktops (which I in turn have to fix/tweak when they break).  As a user of
cloud services, almost the only thing that matters is a good browser (e.g.
Chrome) and the OS underneath it doesn't matter (unless you want to run flash,
which Apple doesn't support).

So all 3 major OS's still have a place in the world, as does FreeBSD, and the
open-source community still hasn't won the battle of the desktop.  That battle
is increasingly irrelevant, as cloud-based apps are accelerating and are
seemingly the wave of the future. (I'll resist the temptation to digress into
comparisons of cloud services vs. "timesharing" services, this isn't American
History class.)


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