The State of Linux: Game On at LinuxCon

Linux is landing on gaming systems and embedded devices, but challenges still remain as leading technology thinkers detail the state of Linux at the LinuxCon conference.

NEW ORLEANS—At the annual LinuxCon USA conference that started Sept. 16, Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin detailed the current state of Linux and how it is evolving in 2013. Zemlin didn't shy away from discussing the challenges either. And he wasn't the only one speaking about the state of Linux at the conference. Gabe Newell, the co-founder of gaming giant Valve, and Eben Upton, the executive director of the Raspberry Pi Foundation, also delivered keynotes talking about the opportunities for Linux in 2013.

"Linux is awesome," Zemlin said as he began his keynote address.

We are now beginning to see the end of the Microsoft Windows era of computing, according to Zemlin, as the impact of both cloud and mobile computing is beginning to become apparent. He stressed that Linux has now reached a tipping point, with support for every hardware architecture, and it is now the default model for new innovations. Zemlin noted, for example, that Twitter is built on open-source technology, as is Google and Facebook.

There are some challenges though. For one, in Zemlin's view the Linux desktop has stalled somewhat and hasn't entirely fulfilled its promise yet. That said, he does see a bright spot with the emergence of Google's Chromebooks. A Chromebook is a Linux-powered notebook that uses Google's Chrome browser as the primary computing tool by which users access Web-based applications. Zemlin noted that he was recently told by an Acer executive that Chromebooks represent between 5 to 10 percent of Acer's U.S. shipments.

Another key challenge that Zemlin sees has to do with developer and legal resources. On the legal front, Zemlin sees a need to scale the legal talent pool with expertise in open source to help enterprises understand licensing concerns. In terms of developers, Zemlin sees a large demand for Linux developers and not enough talent to meet that demand.

"We need to do a better job on training, and the biggest bottleneck for many companies is getting developer resources to catch up with the adoption of Linux and open source," Zemlin said.

Raspberry Pi

The Linux developer community is growing thanks in part to the Raspberry Pi, a small-form-factor, ARM-powered Linux device developed and built by the Raspberry Pi Foundation in an effort to provide an easy-to-use platform for software development. The Raspberry Pi Foundation's Upton told the LinuxCon audience that most people are used to buying computers in order to be users of software. The Raspberry Pi is a platform to enable people—and especially children—to be developers of software.

The Raspberry Pi has been shipping for 18 months, and to date over 1.7 million devices have been shipped.


Linux also has a future as a gaming platform. Valve's Newell explained to the LinuxCon audience that the gaming giant has used Linux servers on the back end since 1999. Earlier this year, Valve shipped its first Steam gaming platform release for Linux.

"Linux is the future of gaming," Newell said. "In February of 2013, we shipped our first Steam client for Linux, and it was a clear signal to our development partners that we're serious about Linux."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at eWEEK and Follow him on Twitter @TechJournalist.

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner

Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.