IBM exec predicts the future of Linux, open source

Bob Sutor made a slate of predictions for Linux and open source during his keynote address at the Black Hat conference

With LinuxWorld showcasing the popularity of the open source operating system, and with open source in general finding its legs in the enterprise, Bob Sutor, IBM's vice president of open source and standards, made a slate of predictions for Linux and open source during his keynote address on Wednesday at the Black Hat conference.

Sutor spent time covering the past 10 years of IBM's involvement with Linux and open source, but it is his predictions for the next decade that should be cause for discussion.

See if you agree with Sutor's peek into the crystal ball:

No. 1: "Green" will drive significant initiatives in open source. The drive to green computing will spawn significant application innovations, and Linux will help reduce energy consumption via server consolidation, virtualization, load-balancing and more efficient resources management.

No. 2: Linux will not be replaced. A new open source operating system will not come along and unseat Linux because the current operating system will continue to evolve to solve new problems.

No. 3: Linux mind share will be less x86 focused. Linux already runs on many different processors, and that won't change. Linux will find significant new opportunity in software-as-a-service and cloud computing.

No. 4: The idea of Linux on the desktop will be significantly different. The very definition of desktop will change, and become more focused on clients that sit anywhere from a cubicle to the bottom of a pants pocket. Client focus will be on collaboration via open standards, cloud computing, enterprise appliances, Web 2.0 and rich-client platforms. If Linux wants a stake on the traditional desktop, it needs to mimic the Apple Mac in usability and design.

No. 5: SMB is too close to call. Smaller companies will focus on "buying solutions" rather than hardware, operating systems and applications; and that could be a boon for Linux. The wild card is the split between embracing open platforms, desktops and clients, or moving pieces to the cloud.

No.6: It will be relatively quiet on the FOSS license front. Licensing will coalesce around the same set of licenses in use today, but more open source software will include a combination of licenses, which will increase the legal complexity of open source.

No. 7: Open standards will grab more attention. The number of prominent standards organizations will decrease, given poor processes and technology, backroom dealings, and outdated intellectual property policies. The evolved model will be closer to today's Creative Commons, and will govern how groups choose open-standards intellectual-property license agreements or patent-nonassertion promises.

No. 8: It will be a "do or die" decade for open source industry applications. Vertical industries will start to move industry-specific applications toward open source in a significant way, or they will stay put on proprietary systems for the long term. There will be no middle ground, although more proprietary-application vendors will offer a Linux-based version.

None of Sutor's claims are revolutionary, and you might notice he didn't say a thing about Microsoft. Clearly, however, if his predictions ring true, they will change IT attitudes; and that will put a lot of pressure on Microsoft, which is trying to turn its lumbering ship toward services and cloud computing.

Also, noted open source legal analyst Mark Radcliffe, who has been general counsel of the Open Source Initiative for many years, disagreed with Sutor's licensing assessment. On his blog, Radcliffe said, "I think that the legacy of multiple licenses (we now have more OSI approved licenses than when I started) will be difficult to overcome. Sadly, I think that we are beyond the point where we can take the rational approach adopted by Larry Lessig in the Creative Commons. The existing licenses have such strong backing that the adoption of a new, 'cleaner' approach is not likely to be successful. I hope I am wrong, but habit is hard to overcome."

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John Fontana

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