In the year 2007 we saw many media players that run Linux. This includes Wizpy, new models of the portable media player from Archos, an iPod competitor from AOL (manufactured in Germany by Haier) and many lesser-known gadgets. There is a vast array of other devices, including networked-attached storage units, home servers, children's toys and innovative gadgets with well-known examples like the Chumby, which makes a wonderful gift even to grown-up kids like ourselves. An extensive list of such devices is constantly being compiled at LinuxDevices, as well as in a few smaller Web sites. Many of the devices are designed and/or manufactured in the Far East, which secures low (and thus highly competitive) costs that lure in less receptive markets.
Linux also gained a high status and earned a place in a large number of industrial components including controllers, automation solutions, meters and monitors. Switches and routers, which arguably fall under the domain of servers as well, have played a role in the growth of GNU/Linux. For example, in 2007 3Com announced that it is betting on Linux and an open strategy. We recently saw a router and switch from Korenix and Vyatta delivers a truly free open source server based on GNU/Linux. It runs free software and adheres to the Red Hat-type business model, which is seen as quite faithful to the ideals of free software.
On the same note, while also considering hybrid devices, it's worth stressing the importance of and the different roles of Linux in telephony or -- more generally -- communication . This includes Asterisk and other software that handles VoIP. Toward the end of 2007, Asterisk boasted the millionth download of its software. John 'maddog' Hall, a Linux luminary who is also the Executive Director of Linux International, once said that open-source VoIP "will be bigger than Linux."
In a realm where customization is king, it is natural to expect advantages to be found in open systems. The robotics market in 2007 is said to have engendered roughly 10 general-purpose software development frameworks; 9 of these support Linux.
In 2007, Hanson Robotics found that in maintaining a mix of free software and proprietary software in robotics, the ideal ratio is 70% free open source software and only 30% proprietary. In this context, the Linux kernel is expected to play a major part. Linux is dominant in robotics in general. It is not just free open source software that gets chosen for its own separate merits.
Looking Into the Future
The 'hidden agenda' in this two-part article -- as if there ever was an agenda -- was to show that ways in which Linux success is typically measured are deeply flawed.
Computing has a visible and a less visible presence in our lives. People perceive the desktop as very important because it is highly visible to the general population. This can be deceiving. It is important to remember that there is no "year of Linux on the desktop." If there was, then it's already behind us and it's called "the tipping point."
Any type of real-world usage grows gradually; it doesn't balloon overnight and clearly not over the course of a single year. Trends are sometimes more meaningful than absolute numbers when it comes to predicting the future. Bearing that in mind, there is no going back as Linux will mature and its usage will further expand in many areas.
Let us never be obsessed too much with the desktop. In fact, a desktop might cease to be a primary target by the time that mythical, so-called 'Linux domination' is finally reached. Many call this "inevitable" and such sooner-or-later destiny is at times recognized by those who have the most to lose. That inevitability may or may not include the desktop, whose future role is yet unknown. Mobile devices seem to gradually replace the desktop, at least in Japan.
Last but not least, it is important to remind ourselves not to be distracted by any single area of computing, which is one just among many. What sustains growth and fuels development is a market that is broader than local computer stores. As Linus Torvalds said recently, "Linux is much bigger than me." Linux is also bigger than the desktop.
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