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The Linux Foundation’s Jim Zemlin on the OS and IBM


Jim Zemlin executive director of the Linux Foundation - Photo by Eric Millette

What do Facebook, Amazon and Google have in common? They all run on Linux*. The open-source software project is the largest of its kind. Far from being a sideline for a collection of hobbyists, Linux is supported by a veritable who’s who of major computer and electronics companies. Of the more than 3,700 developers who made around 92,000 changes and improvements to Linux last year, 80 percent were employer-paid and frequently assigned to Linux full-time. Consistently appearing in the list of the top 10 corporate Linux contributors over the last decade is IBM, which last fall made a billion-dollar commitment to Linux for the second time in its history.

The OS is supported by big business because Linux powers big business. It lies at the core of banking, retail, government and communications organizations. It runs eight out of 10 online trading platforms. It underlies much of the global economy and the Internet.

“Anyone can be confident that Linux is going to be here and be incredibly well supported by the largest companies in the world, for decades to come.”
—Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation

“It’s become the basis of almost every aspect of our modern technical lives,” says Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, which hosts the project. “About 95 percent of the world’s supercomputers operate on Linux, as do the majority of embedded systems. You run across Linux every single day and you probably don’t even know it.”

Much of its value is driven by its open-source nature. Linux is freely available to all users, not just to apply but to explore, right down to the source code. The approach brings to bear an amount of intellectual capital that simply can’t be equaled by a proprietary effort. A proprietary OS might be the focus of hundreds of developers; over the course of its existence, Linux has been buoyed by the efforts of more than 10,000 developers, all seeking ways to improve the code and make it more effective and resilient.

After a release, the development team doesn’t wait around for customer feedback to start making changes for the next iteration or patch vulnerabilities the way a proprietary team might. With Linux, the development team is the customer, and when they find a bug or want a feature that will better support their products and services, they can not only report it, but also write the fix themselves.

“In many ways, Linux solves a lot of the problems the CXO deals with, including how to get the most reliable, cost-effective software at the highest level of service possible while having access to the source code to be able to make changes when necessary,” Zemlin says.

Today, much of the Linux code comes from professional programmers paid by their employers to work on the project. IBM has teams of developers dedicated full-time to improving the software. In part, it’s a recognition of the value of Linux to the global economy but also to its customer base—and to the company itself. Watson*, for example, runs on the Power Systems* platform with the Linux OS. The combined efforts of the open-source community freed IBM to focus on innovation, not software infrastructure.

Patrick Jobin is the marketing manager at Storagepipe Solution


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