Linux Operating Systems
Copyright 2021, Faulkner Information Services. All
Publication Date: 2106
Report Type: TUTORIAL
Linux is named for its developer, Linus Torvalds, who created it as a
hobby operating system for the Intel 80386 CPU. Torvalds remains in
control of Linux as he owns the trademark, monitors its use, and
determines what, if any, new code is incorporated into the standard
kernel. Linux has established itself as one of the most important
operating systems in the enterprise, powering not only most Internet
servers but the basic kernel found on Android mobile phones, tablets, and
other devices. One of the guiding principals of Linux is that all
components, including specialty software distribution, must be made open
source. This framework still allows for commercial profitability, with
distributors making money by providing a subset or superset of Linux
distributions designed for particular users, while also being able to
charge for service and support. Possibly the most important development in
the acceptance of Linux has been the success of Google’s operating systems
– Chrome OS and Android – both of which are based on Linux. This report
discusses the current and future outlooks of Linux and makes
recommendations to users considering implementation.
- Executive Summary
- Current View
- Web Links
- Related Faulkner Reports
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The brainchild of developer Linus Torvalds more than twenty-five years
ago, Linux now reportedly powers 100 percent of the world’s supercomputers
(including all of the top 500 fastest), most servers that power the
Internet, and millions upon millions of Android mobile phones and devices.1
|Linux Enterprise Market
Thanks to the introduction of products by mainstream vendors and the
evangelism provided by the Linux Foundation, Linux continues to make
inroads into the enterprise and on the desktop, with a multitude of
distributions (nicknamed distros, in Linux-speak). Sometimes
there are fees for these distros, especially when support is included;
other times, it’s truly free of charge. More importantly, it’s also free
from patents and other restrictions that determine how it can be used, as
is required by the aforementioned mandate that all distributions remain
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Linux gains its name from its operating system kernel, which was
developed by then-student Linus Torvalds in 1991 as a hobby operating
system for the Intel 80386 CPU. Torvalds remains in control of Linux as he
owns the trademark, monitors its use, and determines what, if any, new
code is incorporated into the standard kernel.
The kernel is deployed with GNU (pronounced “guh-noo,” it is an acronym
for “GNUs Not UNIX”) tools to provide a complete operating system. The
kernel is a UNIX-like Open Source product supported by a community of
thousands of developers and released under the open source General Public
License (GPL). Linux is built, marketed, and distributed according to the
open source or “freeware” model, in which source code must be distributed
for free. End-user code improvement is actually encouraged with this
distribution model, and is often incorporated into future distributions of
the product. Linux is widely available both for download over the Internet
and via physical media in a large number of distributions, each providing
the core Linux components in their latest approved version, along with
accessory products. These can include everything from basic configuration
tools to specialized software for a very specific need. Like the operating
system itself, all of these added components must also be made open
source. Because of the fluid and distributed nature of Linux development,
service and support contracts are critical in the enterprise environment.
This is why some distributors, such as Red Hat, do well in those markets
by providing one-on-one support for major clients. Major Linux
distributors include Red Hat, SUSE, Debian, and Turbolinux (in the Asian
market). New distros are released frequently.
Linux is a very well-established operating system, known for being highly
scalable and reliable, if handled correctly. It has grown up from its
original character/command-based interface to provide a full GUI
environment in most distributions. Available software is plentiful, and it
has a strong community of users. Linux supports the vast majority of
servers on the Internet, nearly 97 percent of the top 1 million domains in
The advent of Linux versions specifically designed to address
enterprise-level applications has led to greater acceptance, a trend that
has been bolstered by release of standard commercial software on Linux by
major vendors. Among the OS’ greatest proponents are IBM, which heavily
endorses Linux and open source products; HP, which offers its various
server lines in Linux configurations; and Oracle, which has offered Linux
support since 1998. Even direct competitor Microsoft–which has actually been
a member of the Linux foundation since 2016–has shown a growing desire to work
alongside and integrate with Linux, providing open
source versions of both its .NET and Visual Studio technologies; brought Debian and Red Hat Enterprise Linux to its Azure Cloud; and added support
for Linux to its Microsoft SQL Server software with the 2016 edition.
However, possibly the most important development in the acceptance of
Linux has been the success of Google’s operating systems – Chrome OS and
Android, versions of Linux – which are becoming ubiquitous in our mobile,
The Linux Kernel
According to the Linux Foundation, a new major kernel release occurs
every 9 to 10 weeks. Additionally, more than 1,600 developers contribute
to each kernel version, with more than 13,500 developers from over 1,300
companies contributing to the Linux kernel since 2005.3
The Role of Linux in the Enterprise
Enterprise Linux use is increasing, due in part to major industry
endorsement. Other factors include its ease of use on larger systems, in
bigger clusters, that run mission-critical applications. In the low-end
server area, Linux is becoming a successful challenger to Microsoft’s
The further development of Linux within the enterprise demands that a
number of issues be resolved, principally with regard to robustness,
scalability, and support. These issues are being dealt with through
development of enterprise standards. These standards are being developed
in two ways: through creation of special enterprise-oriented
distributions, and through standards being investigated by several
organizations that will be applied to all Linux distributions, and will
permit distributions to “qualify” that they provide these services and
meet these guidelines.
Some resistance remains to Linux in the enterprise based on:
- Learning/training difficulty
- Lack of easily available technical support
- The existence of too many forked versions
- Insufficient number of trained personnel
- Fragmentation of packages and installation routines
- A lack of standard business applications
- Suspicion that free software is not enterprise-class
Although the new enterprise versions of Linux are designed to address
these problems, and additional software continues to roll out, it may
still be some time before objections are eliminated completely.
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Linux is now ubiquitous. According to the Web site linux.com, “It’s in
your phones, in your cars, in your refrigerators, your Roku devices. It
runs most of the Internet, the supercomputers making scientific
breakthroughs, and the world’s stock exchanges.”
According to the Linux Foundation, nearly all of the top 1 million Web
domains run on Linux. Here are some other statistics:
- Over 80 percent of smartphones run Android (based on the Linux
- Nearly all of the top 500 fastest supercomputers in the world run
- Most of the global markets, including NYSE, NASDAQ, London Exchange,
and Tokyo Stock Exchange, rely on Linux.
- The majority of consumer electronic devices employing an OS kernel use
- Over three-quarters of cloud-enabled enterprises report using Linux as
their primary cloud platform.
- E-commerce giants Amazon, Ebay, PayPal, Walmart, and more run on
Enterprise software available for Linux, including both Open Source and
commercial applications, is becoming more readily available. Development
of enterprise solutions has experienced rapid growth in recent years, with
many developers coming on board to support IBM’s System z, a top-end
system designed to run multiple “virtual” Linux sessions in an enterprise
environment, and Microsoft's Windows Subsystem for Linux.
All that said, analysts agree that the slowing of migrations from Unix to
Linux is due to the fact that there is little left in the Unix market that
hasn’t already been “Linux-ed.” In spite of the market having largely
reached saturation, the actual number of Linux servers continues to
Meanwhile, desktop Linux is gaining in acceptance as providers improve
and simplify the OS interface and develop desktop applications that either
interoperate with Microsoft desktop applications or aim to replace them
with applications that offer a similar look and feel to Microsoft’s
ubiquitous Office suite. Most Linux distributors now offer desktop
versions of their products; current interest in Desktop Linux is strong in
some arenas, and nearly all Linux vendors have released a desktop version.
Still, Linux clients make up less than 2.4 percent of the market (not
counting Android), so Microsoft Windows holds the lion’s share of the
desktop operating system market, and remains a formidable opponent.5
It is projected that the global Linux Operating System market will climb
from USD 3.89 billion USD in 2019 to 15.64 billion USD by the end of 2027.
This increase will be fueled by increasing product applications across
diverse industry verticals.6
Microsoft and Linux
Microsoft has become “more open” in terms of releasing a few protocols to
developers and has demonstrated some license pricing flexibility,
particularly for large government contracts, and it announced support for
Linux in its Virtual Server.
The company’s support continued to grow in April 2018 when Microsoft
announced Azure Sphere, a software and hardware stack designed to secure
edge devices. Its most interesting component is its Linux-based Azure
Sphere operating system. When Microsoft President Brad Smith introduced
Azure Sphere, he said, “After 43 years, this is the first day that we are
announcing, and will distribute, a custom Linux kernel.”7
It was, however, not the last time by any means. One year later, in May
2019, Microsoft revealed that an upcoming update of the Windows 10
operating system would ship with a full Linux kernel included. This will
allow developers to create Linux applications within Windows, without the
need to run any sort of emulation software. This move benefits both
operating systems by enhancing the interoperability options for developers
that frequently need to move between the two.
The Linux “product” is provided in a large number of different versions,
known as “distributions” or “distros,” each of which retains the core
kernel and GNU tools. Additionally, a variety of common tools (such as
KDE, Apache, and Samba) are backed with a collection of additions and
service options that meet a particular market niche. Mainstream
distributions – i.e. commercial applications fully supported by their
vendor – have typical license and maintenance fees, just as any other
commercial software applications would, while community supported
distributions tend to be free to users.
The Web site Linux.org, now a forum-based site, began as a user-supported
community with the mission of promoting Linux through education. According
to the site’s former iteration, potential users should use the following
questions to help select a Linux distribution:
- Is the code base stable?
- Does it change much?
- Is it easy to update software packages?
- Is it easy to upgrade from one major version to the next?
- Does it have a large developer base?
Linux enthusiasts forecasted many years ago that someday, Linux would
beat out Windows on the desktop. Well, that hasn’t happened, at least not
the way it was envisioned, with a version of a Windows-like interface that
was Linux. But the operating systems most increasing in use today are, in
fact, based on Linux and come in the form of Google’s Chrome OS and
The success of the Chromebook and the wide use of Android smart phones
and tablets indicate acceptance of a Linux-powered desktop, even if much
of the desktop is found on a phone or tablet.
Table 1 lists the most popular Linux distributions. It should be noted
that other distros are being released all the time. Many of them are
considered “fixed function,” in that they focus on one area, such as
security, for example. Vendors abound for these targeted, small distros,
but they could be considered “not yet ready for prime time,” because they
frequently are not full functioned.
|Android (Backed by Google)|| Smart phones, tablets, other mobile
|Archlinux||Desktop or small server|
|CentOS Linux (Based on Red Hat)||Server|
|ClearOS (formerly ClarkConnect)||Server, network, gateway platform|
|Fedora (Sponsored by Red Hat)||Desktop or small server|
|Mageia (Based on Mandriva)||Server|
|Open SUSE Leap||Server|
|Oracle Linux (Based on Red Hat)||Server|
|Ubuntu||Mobile, desktop, and server|
During 2007, two Linux-based groups making standardization efforts – the
Free Standards Group (FSG) and the Open Source Development Lab (OSDL) –
merged to form the Linux Foundation (LF), a nonprofit consortium
“dedicated to fostering the growth of Linux.”
The Linux Foundation is home to the LSB Workgroup, responsible for
developing the Linux Standard Base (LSB), which provides a standard for
core functionality and primary libraries. It defines an Application Binary
Interface (ABI) similar to POSIX.1 and POSIX.2 source specifications,
which defines an API for developers and includes runtime definitions. LSB
compliance also requires 15 specific libraries used in the ABIs. Compliant
development tools will restrict applications calls for utilities not
included in LSB.
With Linux, it is important to remember that there is no such thing as
“competing standards” in the conventional sense; due to the nature of open
source licensing, all modifications and enhancements are debated by the
community, and, if accepted, are made available to all. This means that
enhancements become de facto standards almost as quickly as they are
implemented. It is, in fact, the speed of innovation, which had to be
slowed for the enterprise versions of the operating system, so that
companies would not need to be continually updating their software.
Linux is, in itself, a standard under the control of the open source
community, with Linus Torvalds still in charge of kernel development
(owning the registered trademark), and other groups validating standard
versions of various components. However, It should be noted that, in
September 2018, Torvads took a temporary leave from his position, placing
the responsibilities for heading up the Linux Foundation in the hands of
close advisor Gregory Kroah-Hartman. The reason for the leave of absence
was a growing pushback from developers over Torvalds’ often abrasive or
even hostile interactions with the community, a personality flaw which the
Linux creator apparently wanted to take time to work on.8 He
returned to the foundation after less than two months.
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As with other aspects of the computer industry – most notably, the
Internet – Linux at first gained the attention of computer hobbyists,
rather than those in the business world. The open source concept of making
it freely available did not appeal to business users’ concept of perceived
value (“you get what you pay for”). However, enhancements to Linux
technology made by the open source community, including GNU-based products
such as servers and desktop environments, have proven that Linux and the
concept of open source software in general can both be extremely useful to
the business world.
An important driver in the growth of Linux deployments is the
increasingly common practice of government agencies decreeing that their
employees evaluate Linux alternatives to Microsoft operating systems and
applications. In some cases, government agencies are required to deploy
only open solutions such as those offered by Linux OS providers. Beyond
cost advantages, and cross-platform interoperability, open systems are
believed to be more secure than Microsoft Windows-based systems. This last
point is debatable, however.
Perhaps the most important factor in assuring continued success of Linux
is its acceptance by mainstream, formerly-competing vendors. Microsoft’s
acceptance was discussed above; IBM continues to be a proponent; and even
Apple has open-sourced its Swift programming language.
Along with increased deployment comes the need for Linux skills in an
organization. The Linux Foundation published “The 2020 Open Source Jobs
Report” that includes data from over 750 hiring managers and nearly 6,500
open source professionals worldwide. Results indicated that hiring open
source talent is a priority for 93 percent of hiring managers, an increase
from 83 percent in 2018.9
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Linux has now achieved substantial success in the enterprise; its server
use has been proven through a slow but steady rate of growth for decades.
Supporting standards that address most, if not all, objections raised
regarding use of the OS in mission-critical applications are building
confidence and adding to Linux’s growth. Still, the open source Linux
kernel remains in competition with both with the traditional RISC-UNIX
server implementations, and with Microsoft’s Windows operating systems.
Migrating to Linux has varying degrees of ease and success. Partially,
ease of implementation depends on the operating system currently being
used. UNIX-based scenarios seem to have a much easier job with their
migration, especially since developers and systems administrators have a
shorter learning curve. Many IT departments, however, find it most
efficient to maintain a mix of Linux and Windows servers. Microsoft’s
growing support for Linux in its server software and, now, within Windows
itself will further ease the burden of running two platforms
simultaneously for staff.
Migrations from Windows to the Linux desktop have notoriously been
problematic. However, with recent advances in hardware support, platform
compatibility, ease of learning and of use, and application support, this
is changing. With mainstream vendors now offering their own versions of
desktop Linux and computer vendors pre-installing it on the systems they
sell, acceptance will continue to grow, as will the number of packaged
applications specifically for Linux.
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1 Prakash, Abhishek. “Linux Runs on All of the Top 500
Supercomputers, Again!" ItsFoss. November 2020.
2 Price, Dan. “The True Market Share of Windows vs. Linux
Compared.” Make Use Of. March 2018.
3 “Linux Is the Most Successful Open Source Project in
History.” The Linux Foundation. Retrieved June 2019.
5 “Desktop Operating System Market Share Worldwide .”
Statcounter. Retrieved June 2021.
6 “Linux OS Market to Rise at 19.2% CAGR till 2027; Increasing
Applications in the Gaming Industry Will Bode Well for Market Growth, says
Fortune Business Insights.” GlobeNewswire. June 22, 2020.
7 Krazit, Tom. “Together at Last: Microsoft Will Ship a Linux Kernel with
Windows.” Geekwire. May 2019.
8 Cohen, Noam. “After Years of Abusive Emails, the Creator of Linux Steps
Aside.” The New Yorker. September 2018.
9 “2020 Open Source Jobs Report.” The Linux
Foundation. Retrieved June 2021.
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