Signposts of GNU/Linux Growth in 2007, Part 1

From supercomputers to mobile phones to the desktop, Linux was on the march in 2007.
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It is sometimes forgotten that GNU/Linux is more than just a desktop operating system. Linux, being a well-engineered kernel, is used extensively and also funded for its important role in several different areas of computing. One needs to look for evidence of growth not only in desktops. Judgment must be based on multiple areas where GNU/Linux gains traction. This ought to cover some disruptive trends that are yet to be reckoned with.

As time goes by, appliances might inherit the important role of traditional desktops. Mobile and ultra-mobile devices could gradually replace laptops and servers to become more predominant owing to Web-based software, which also moves storage toward the back end. Let's explore how GNU/Linux fits this broader vision and discover just how ubiquitous it is, with growth consistently on the upside.


In supercomputing, GNU/Linux has become extremely popular and sometimes irreplaceable. Its selection is a matter of scalability and reliability, not just cost. Among the world's top computers, taking virtualization into account as well, Linux climbed from 86% installed base in 2006 up to 91% at the end of 2007. This relative growth in 2007 might not seem great, but it comes to show that GNU/Linux still tightens its grip on this domain, rather than loosen any. Inertia is likely to ensure that such domination is maintained, if not further expanded in years to come.

In the past couple of years, SGI, Sun Microsystems and Microsoft have all attempted to gain or regain ground in supercomputing. SGI conceded UNIX in favor of GNU/Linux, whereas Microsoft and Sun stuck to their guns and they have yet to demonstrate actual growth with Windows and Solaris, respectively. Based on the world's top 500 computers, their ambitions led to very limited success. IBM's AIX holds on to a share of 4.8%, Sun's Solaris is at 0.4% and Mac OS X maintains 0.4%. GNU/Linux is still seen as a de facto platform in this domain. Faith in this platform is increasing owing to maturity and its hard-earned reputation.

Mobile Phones

EDN highlighted the success of Linux in mobile phones last year. It pointed to exceptionally high popularity in Asia thanks to NEC, Panasonic, Motorola and others. In 2006, Linux was said to have powered approximately a quarter of all feature phones shipped in the previous year, according to market analysts cited by Webb. Growth seems to have been persistent since then, but there was one barrier that was finally passed in 2007.

Linux-powered handsets are said to be suffering from fragmentation in their development, but the Linux Phone Standards (LiPS) Forum has created a formal liaison and a technical framework for cooperation. Google's Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) emerged later in the year 2007 and it can exist in a state of collaboration and harmonize with LiPS. OMA develops open specifications for content and services, whereas LiMO concentrates on specifications and standards for these services. At the center of OMA you will find Android, which is a Linux/Java-based stack for developers. It is a common framework that leads to greater centralization, essentially replacing that notorious fragmentation with unification.

All in all, in the mobile space, growth continued at a rapid pace, especially in Asia. The effect of LiMO and Google's Android is to be seen in years to come. Google has already spent hundreds of millions of dollars on its endeavors in the mobile space, the company's spectrum-related investments aside. We shall see the first product that uses Android in the first quarter of next year. Many large companies will be actively involved and HTC might lead the way.

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Tags: Google, Microsoft, virtualization, Sun Microsystems, GNU/Linux

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