Linux at 25: What's Behind Its Success and Where It's Going

At LinuxCon, keynoters look back at 25 years of Linux, why the future is still bright, and why technology can have tangible benefits on the human condition.

Jim Zemlin

TORONTO—Twenty-five years ago this week, Linus Torvalds posted a mailing list message announcing the birth of the operating system that we know today as Linux. At the LinuxCon conference that kicked off here today, the anniversary of Linux is being celebrated, along with discussion on how the same innovation that enables Linux can quite literally change the world.

"Linux at 25 is a big thing," Jim Zemlin (pictured), executive director of the Linux Foundation, said in his LinuxCon keynote address. "Most things in life don't last as long, and Linux has gone further than anyone could have expected."

During his keynote remarks, Zemlin emphasized time and again how successful Linux has been, calling it the most successful software project in history. As to why Linux is still so successful after 25 years, Zemlin has a few ideas.

While there are many ingredients that make up Linux, it is the shared collaborative model at the core of Linux that has made it work, he said.

"You can better yourself while bettering others at the same time," Zemlin said. "Some people may have thought in the beginning that this was some kind of hippie thing, but Linux has proven that it's not."

Sharing is hard work, Zemlin admitted, but it works and has proved itself in the Linux community. Today, Linux powers the global economy, including stock exchanges, mobile phones, climate forecasting and everything in between.

"Sharing while making yourself and others better is a higher purpose, and it matters," he said. "That is the magic of Linux and open source, and that's what the Linux movement has achieved over 25 years."

Zemlin is confident that the past 25 years were not an aberration for Linux and that it is here to stay. The first generation of Linux was all about emulating proprietary software, making it more affordable and accessible. However, he said, "Today Linux is not about emulating the past; it's about defining the future."

Zemlin shared the keynote stage with well-known science evangelist Ainissa G. Ramirez, who spoke at length about how technology shapes humanity. Ramirez's core message was about building technology not just for functional purposes, but for aspiration purposes as well.

"Technology is a faster mover than legislation. If you don't think so, just thing of all the people who have different lives today with Pokemon Go, which didn't exist four weeks ago," Ramirez said, drawing laughter from the audience.

On a more serious note, Ramirez recounted the role that social media has played in the modern world to expose injustices and help people's voices to be heard. To that end, Ramirez stated that technology is a tool that can and does help enable democracy, and as such those who build technology and write code have the potential to be democracy's heroes.

Ramirez asked the LinuxCon audience to think about how impactful the work is that they are doing. Although she said she realizes many people define their success by wealth or accolades, software developers can build platforms that will change the human condition.

"Think about what you're doing that can help eradicate human suffering; make technology that is aspiration so it's a better world," Ramirez said. "I know what I'm asking might not be easy, but changing the world never is."

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.