TODAY'S Legend of Linux is Ralf Flaxa, president of engineering at Suse (that's the one with the gecko logo).
Flaxa has worked on Linux since the beginning and has been at Suse since 2002 in charge of several projects that have been rolled out not just at Suse but across the whole Linux ecosystem.
What's your first memory of Linux?
I first heard of Linux in the autumn of 1991 when I was studying in Bordeaux. At that time, I was looking for an operating system which would be suitable for an academic project (GDB remote debugging stub).
In reality, that meant I needed a free operating system which would drive a serial line. I wasn’t looking for Linux necessarily, but my professor at the time had pointed me to the Xinu project at the University of Helsinki.
While looking around there, I stumbled over Linux and the thread on alt.os.minix. As Linux was able to do what I needed and it was free, it was the natural choice.
What do you believe has been Linux's biggest contribution to the world?
Probably Linus’ choice for the GNU GPL as a licensing model. Free software existed before but this was a huge success factor, combined with Linus’ individual style and personality to 'run the project', of course.
When did you start getting paid for doing work in Linux and what was it doing?
My first job in Linux was as an admin at the University of Erlangen-Nuremburg where I maintained the FTP mirror for Linux and helped professors to install Linux in classrooms. Later that became my first business, called LST aka Linux Support Team.
What has been the biggest single challenge to Linux's success?
It’s hard to pinpoint an individual thing because the success of Linux is ongoing, so any challenges it has faced over the years have obviously been overcome because it continues to thrive. But I’d have to say when people try to drag Linux into patent wars. That’s always challenging and distracting.
What has been its biggest triumph?
There are so many different triumphs, and I can speak only from my own perspective. But I think the fact that Microsoft now embraces Linux publicly is amazing.
The ubiquity of Linux is also astonishing when you consider its beginnings. It is everywhere, even when people don’t realise it. Linux is in smartphones, washing machines, cars, access points. You name it, you’ll find Linux there. That’s quite incredible when you think about it.
Do you believe that Linux has a future on the consumer desktop as well as the mobile and the server?
Linux is the predominant OS on servers already based on market share, and I believe it will continue to win there. Android devices are ahead of iOS devices in shipment numbers so Linux is in the lead on mobile too.
The consumer desktop is an interesting prospect because I believe it’s probably not going to be around for much longer in its current form. As a result, the consumer OS is going to become less relevant over time, likely moving towards a browser- or app-based solution instead. Native apps will be less and less prevalent.
Why does the open source model work so well in a world of profits and shareholders?
Because the open source development model leverages a particular strength, which is that you always have more people contributing to the solution than any company could afford to have on its payroll.
We all work together across boundaries, time zones and companies, so innovation is faster and costs are shared over a broad base. Together we are stronger. Linux has had 25 years of success based on collaboration. Here’s to the next 25!
This is the first conference since Linux and Windows became official 'buds'. How is that partnership going, do you think?
Well, this isn’t quite the first. There are existing Suse/Microsoft partnerships which involve Linux. But, yes, we have the interop story with Linux and Windows working well together.
We already had a good relationship with Microsoft, but we definitely appreciate that Microsoft now embraces Linux more publicly. It’s a big move but it's doing a great thing, and we’re very excited about that.
What does the next 25 years hold for Linux?
25 years is an eternity in IT, so I’d say it’s almost impossible to imagine. We can be certain that Linux is here to stay, though. It has reached critical mass and its footprint is still growing.
But perhaps the use of Linux will become so widespread and accepted that we won’t talk about Linux being inside certain hardware or environments anymore. For example, right now there’s Linux underpinning every cloud environment, but people talk about the cloud, not Linux.
Essentially, the key principles of Linux will become de facto standards. To me, it’s also more important that the great concepts stay and thrive versus people talking a lot about the word 'Linux'.
Any anecdotes to share?
There is a great and sustainable network of Linux people, old and young, who together will defend its principles and values, no matter who wants to attack it.
We have had that conversation multiple times over a beer when we meet. That no matter who we work for 'in the end we will all join forces if needed to defend the benefits of Linux and open source'. That is great to know and reassuring. Call it the 'secret alliance' ;-). µ
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