Just 10 short years ago, Linux was considered an upstart, challenging the embedded players. Open-source software was evolving around the world, but very few projects beyond the Apache Web server had penetrated big business. Fast-forward to today, and Red Hat is in the S&P 500, the Apache Web server accounts for well over half of all Web servers, and even Java has gone GPL. Call it the triumph of the open.

Now, 30 years after the GNU General Public License was first conceived and 20 years after Linux kicked off, big business has come to understand the power of big community. Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, said, “It has fundamentally changed the way people live every day.

“Let me give you an example: Bill Gates changed the world with a simple vision of a PC on every desktop running Microsoft software. And the PC did change the way people interact in their daily lives. Linux has gone even beyond that.

“It’s not just powering desktops, but it’s a part of the fundamental economy of the globe. It runs 75% of global equity trades. It is a fundamental component of the global economy. Wall Street and Linux are inextricably linked. It runs air traffic control systems, trains, Google, Amazon, eBay and Facebook. It’s in your phone. It’s in your TV. I mean, it’s changed the world so fundamentally, and people aren’t even aware it exists, which I think is one of the most elegant things about Linux.”

But open source and Linux aren’t just about doing the heavy lifting. They’re also about driving down costs. “It has driven billions of dollars of cost out of the IT industry,” said Zemlin. “It has enabled services that are a part of everyone’s daily lives. It has changed fundamentally the way people think about developing software. It has proven the collaborative model is better.”

That’s because it all comes down to the people. Open-source software is, in a way, less about the software itself, and more about the collaboration of everyone involved in using and building that software. Standards and processes are still extremely important, but at the end of the day, it’s the people writing the software and their interactions with each other that make open-source projects move forward.

People like Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, who said that the power of open source is evident in every aspect of Eclipse and its ecosystem. “It’s one of the challenges we’ve got at Eclipse as an organization: We’ve got so many different technologies and talk to so many different types of companies across the product life cycle, from early adopters to late, from engineering in automotive or aerospace. That’s a very wide spread of companies leveraging Eclipse,” he said. With all those stakeholders, Eclipse has to make a lot of people happy for different reasons.
Cutting those costs
Zemlin said that Linux has some of those same problems, but good engineering and proper adherence to goals ensure projects remain focused on the strengths of Linux.

“I think it’s more of an industry shift, where you’re seeing this massive adoption of Linux as the underlying fabric of a lot of different computing,” he said. “All of the fundamental advantages Linux had in terms of the availability of the source code, the low cost, the fact that you can own this stuff and build your own things on top of it, have turned out to be truly fundamental advantages.”