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Linux, Are You Our Hero?

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Ken Hess

Nickelback lyrics notwithstanding, many see Linux as the hero that can save us — save us from continuous hardware upgrades with each major software revision, confusing licensing programs, hidden costs and fees and vendor lock-in. With that said, is Linux our hero? The obvious answer is yes, but is it a true hero or just the hero of the month?

Cover Your Assets: They say that a hero can save us; I’m not gonna stand here and wait.

They say a hero will appear when the world needs one most. A hero saves you from oppression (vendor lock-in), fights off the bad guys (hackers, viruses, malware), and allows you to sleep better at night knowing he is watching over you (stability).

When Linux first emerged as a “ready for prime time” OS in the mid-1990s, Windows NT 4 and Windows 95 were our heroes. They saved us from Novell’s NetWare, SCO Unix and Microsoft’s own Windows 3.x — but at a very high price: Choice. We converted to Windows from every known platform and OS only to find ourselves caught in Microsoft’s inescapable maelstrom of marketing hype, endless service packs and upgrade madness. We were too scared not to embrace the new hero as our own, so we accepted it and relinquished our ability to choose any other platform, for better or worse.

Once introduced to the stability (kernel 1.2.13) and charisma of Linux, it was irresistible. We didn’t stand and wait but helped Linux take small bites (bytes?) out of the prevailing hero’s mystique. Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were the first to harness the power and agility of Linux as a free alternative to traditional Unix systems. Sun’s Solaris OS began to lose its luster as the ISP platform of choice. This was perhaps the first major commercial conversion from an established heroic icon to the way of the shiny new hero for whom we’ve been waiting.

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Fast forward a few years to 2005 and beyond, while Linux makes its presence known to most of the world’s data centers and large corporate networks. It is also beginning to show up on desktop computers in government offices, major corporations, and large banks. Linux-based virtualizationis now a primary force in trimming those IT budgets in huge server consolidation projects. IBM, HP, Oracle, Novell, Red Hat, Canonical, VMware, Citrix, and even Microsoft now support Linux as an OS and as a substrate for other services.

Linux powers the largest cloud computing services, hosts most of the world’s web services, inherently protects us from viruses and other malware programs, makes up powerful super computers and runs the humble TiVo. In the most fundamental way, Linux is a hero — a hero that also saves you bundle of cash.

Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. You may reach him through his website at

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