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Editor's Note: The Next Big Thing

Sep 10, 2004, 23:30 (6 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

Is Linux always going to be the Big Thing? Or is there, somewhere out there, Something Else that will ultimately take Linux' place as the next Big Thing?

I have no idea what this next Big Thing might be, but I can hazard a guess or two. One thing is for sure--this new bit of technology will probably have familiar adjectives--like "upstart" and "newcomer" and "fledgling"--tacked onto it.

It seems that a lot of technologies that fall into the "disruptive" category get these monikers at one time or another. I remember when Lisa, DOS, and PalmPilots were the Big Thing. Of course, Lisa did not survive in its present form, though the idea of a merged hardware/software commodity still lives on at Apple and Sun Microsystems. DOS--well, we shudder to think about how it turned out, don't we? Palms seem to be doing okay, though there are many signs of convergence with other devices.

Linux is now the Big Thing. It's the happy, happy buzzword that IT managers like to throw about when they are (a) actually being innovative, (b) pretending to be innovative to impress their bosses, or (c) trying to scare the bejeezus out of the visiting sales rep from Redmond so they can get a better deal (see Telstra, Newham, and others for examples). In a perfect world, (a) will be the norm, but alas, we are in an entropic universe so options (b) and (c) will take place all-too-frequently.

Which actually raises a question from me: how many times can organizations bluff Microsoft into better deals before the bluff becomes hideously apparent? After all, if everyone threatens to move to open source and no one actually does it, pretty soon even Microsoft is going to figure out that that dog ain't gonna hunt. I want to see more Linux adoptions than leveraging deals.

But I digress.

I think the next Big Thing is going to be Open Source. This may not seem like much of a leap of imagination, but there you go. The concept of opening what was closed software code is becoming more and more attractive to development houses, as they realize that there are a lot more upsides (peer review, collaboration, community goodwill) than downsides to opening code, once they get over the licensing heebie-jeebies.

And I don't even know why that last is a concern anymore, since the Open Source Institute seems intent on giving everyone an open source license these days. I hope they were serious about tidying up that mess, because I think there are way too many OSS licenses out there right now. Like most Linux users, I tend to have GPL-bias, and I know that there is a need for other licenses. But c'mon, giving the Ingres database its own OSS license? Please.

Oops, I digress again.

The opening of code is going to be the wave of the future, and I think we will soon see evidence of that with the opening of Solaris. If Sun goes through with this, and I think they will, then they may help validate open source methodology as the way software should go. If they don't screw it up.

Of course, while opening Solaris may help the cause of open source, it certainly won't help Linux. Jonathan Schwartz can say all he wants (and he will), but trying to say that Sun is only going after Red Hat, Inc. is ridiculous.

Let's pretend Sun actually manages to take down Red Hat with open (or closed) Solaris. You think they would just stop there? You don't think SUSE/Novell and MandrakeSoft would be next on their list? Sure, that will happen. Quit trying to straddle the fence, Sun. Either you're in or you're out of the Linux biz.

Here's this week's conspiracy theory: Sun flirted with Linux and they learned how to live in Open Source Land, and they may have figured out how to make an Open Solaris work. If they have, then look for a Java Desktop System powered not by Linux, but rather by Solaris. Market-wise, it could be a transparent move because, as I've mentioned before, it's called the Java Desktop System, with the term "Linux" nowhere in sight.

Darn, I digress again.

There will be other Big Things, beyond Linux and Open Source. This is not to say Linux is going anywhere. It's just that it will become ubiquitous. It will be commonplace.

What will be the "upstart?" I leave that as an exercise for the reader. Have a pleasant weekend.