The view of IT from India is clearer than in America - learn globally about Linux

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Sun, 04/17/2005 - 19:26.

WIth insightful perspectives from an information technology (IT) professional in India, the article below offers an excellent overview of the origins of Linux, what it is, where it fits in the IT world, trends in use, and implications on workforce demands. This is the perspective from India, and the global perspective, and the trends referenced are global, like Linux has 14 percent of the $50.9 billion market for server operating systems. Business professionals who do not understand these trends and implications risk tragic consequences.

Linux spreads its wings

Linux has come a long way in India with major successes in the corporate segment. Its growing popularity has resulted in an increased demand for Linux professionals, says K Venkatesh

Derided as a passing fad in its early years, Linux has since grown at such a pace that technology giants like IBM and Oracle are endorsing it, and Microsoft has had to sit up and take notice. A number of organisations in the country are increasingly using Linux, whether it is IRCTC for vendor management, financial and HR management systems on Red Hat Linux; IDBI Bank for financial management, HRMS (ERP) and e-banking; or BSNL (Chennai) for its billing applications. All these use Linux to run their core applications. Indeed, Linux has become a popular option for mail-servers, proxies and firewalls.

Early days

In the early eighties, Richard Stallman wanted to change software that was not working to his satisfaction, but was unable to do so as the source code was not available to him. His reaction was to set up the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project with the intention of preventing the commercialisation of such software. He published all his work on the Internet, and people could download and customise it as per their requirements. With time, more people contributed with their programmes and newer versions were brought out, all of which could be downloaded for free.

Next, with the creation of GNU tools, a kernel was required to run these programmes. This is where Linus Torvalds filled the gap with Linux. In 1991, Linus posted a message to Usenet, in which he asked for interested parties to contribute to his effort. Linux expanded from just a kernel to a huge suite of applications and utilities. Admirers of Linux state that the greatest advantage Linux has over its competitors is that no other software or operating system can match a system designed and developed by thousands of talented and motivated programmers, many of whom are professional software developers.

Linux is a freely distributable, fully 32-bit, pre-emptive multi-tasking operating system written and distributed under the GNU General Public Licence, which means that its source code is freely distributed and available to the public.

Technically, the term ‘Linux’ denotes only the kernel of the operating system. Various companies and groups of volunteers have built Linux distributions around this kernel. A Linux distribution contains all the necessary tools and programmes to install and maintain the system, perform basic operations, and develop software. In addition to this, a number of applications are also included—Web browser, MUA, newsreader, bitmap editor and audio manipulation tools. Almost all of these application programmes carry an open licence similar to the Linux kernel.

Linux runs on widely differing hardware platforms ranging from small embedded systems over commodity personal computers to huge clusters for processor-intensive jobs like scientific calculations or 3D rendering.

Growing acceptance

Linux is gaining acceptance in corporates as they are able to expedite project implementation with the availability of the source code. The IT industry is dependent on rapid change, and Linux enables IT departments to move projects forward faster than what has been the norm. Secondly, the current economy is based on tight budgets and cost-cutting measures. Linux is inexpensive and does not require royalties. The Linux market share (server-side) is growing at a phenomenal rate.

Research firm IDC says that Linux has 14 percent of the $50.9 billion market for server operating systems, and will climb to the number two position behind Windows by 2006. Recently, the operating system has been espoused by a large number of major technology vendors, including giants such as IBM, HP and Oracle, with each drawing on their vast programming resources to develop business solutions based on Linux.

Because Linux is based on Unix, there are already a large number of Unix professionals moving into the Linux space. Additionally, as the demand for skilled Linux administrators continues to grow, a greater number of professionals are earning Linux-based certifications. The industry certainly needs well-trained and certified professionals in the Linux space. An IDC study suggests that the market for training professionals on the open source operating system could grow to between $118.9 million and $311 million.

Job opportunities

Career opportunities exist for Web developers and software professionals for creating an improved version of Linux, and also for preparing programmes based on those improved versions. Sizeable numbers of Linux professionals are working in India, the Far East and US on applications specific to personal digital assistants, mobile computing and e-mail. Opportunities also exist in telecommunications, and for developing system tools. In addition, there are vacancies for professionals in the marketing and distribution of Linux-based software to different parts of the world. Certified professionals can even work as freelancers, consulting with clients on Linux maintenance.

Advantages of Linux

  • Freely distributed source code: Since the source code is freely available, it has undergone scrutiny by innumerable programmers; this has helped improve performance, eliminate bugs, and strengthen security.
  • High level of technical support available: Due to its open source design, Linux is supported by commercial distributors, consultants, and by a very active community of users and developers.
  • Lack of vendor lock-in: Source code availability ensures that in case of technical problems, users and support providers are able to get to the root of the same quickly and effectively. This is in sharp contrast to proprietary operating systems, where even top-tier support providers must rely on the OS vendor for technical information and bug fixes.
  • Far simpler than Microsoft operating systems and proprietary versions of Unix: This means that companies using Linux for specific business solutions (such as point-of-sale terminals or e-commerce servers) do not have to buy a bulky package with numerous superfluous functions. Further, the open-source concept makes it possible for companies to have their own software specialists or consultants adapt the operating system to meet their specific needs.
  • Runs on a wide range of hardware: Linux supports a wide range of PC devices.
  • Inter-operates with different types of computer systems: Linux communicates using the native networking protocols of Unix, Microsoft Windows 95/NT, IBM OS/2, NetWare and Macintosh systems, and can also read and write disks and partitions from these and other operating systems.
  • Low cost of ownership
  • All for one and one for all: being open source software, changes in it will benefit all users.

The author is Vice-president, Business Development, SSI Education