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The State of the FOSS: Some Closing Thoughts

Date/Time Permalink: 03/26/06 07:07:02 am
Category: Reviews

OpenSolaris, GNU/HURD, BSD, and Plan 9 from Bell Labs - together with Linux, they make a winning hand. But is it a Royal Flush? If so, Linux is definitely the Ace, with BSD running a very close King, Plan 9 as the surprising Queen, OpenSolaris playing a last-minute Jack, and GNU the Ten - GNU fulfilling what seems to be it's purpose in life, to complete the others without getting it's own face. I'm sure many out there have their favorites, and some will disagree with my rankings, and you're all correct: but count yourselves and you will see it breaks down just about this way, at least in terms of popularity.

There are others I haven't covered. The free systems for Macs, for instance. I lack the Mac hardware to try them - I'll rectify that the minute I run across the hardware. There's FreeDOS - thought I forgot it? - But I had my fill of DOS in my lifetime. There's nowhere for it to go but down.

As much as many don't want to admit it, free software is here to stay. It has nowhere to go but up. It has spread throughout the world. It has the advantage of being by the people, and so it does whatever the people want it to do. It is the concepts of freedom and liberty encoded into ones and zeros, and everyone who has contributed to it - however minor - may congratulate themselves on their successful revolution.

If there were no Microsoft, which one would have to become it? Probably Linux. The outraged howls at how Linux dares to be different pour in daily. People out there want to dilute Linux, dumb it down, make it more commercial - lobotomize it. And therefore, if it succumbs to the demand, it will become just as worthless as Microsoft. This is a stretch to imagine at best and crazy doom-saying at worst - but I'm a survivalist. I stockpile books against the day when mobs in the street will be burning them. And while I don't go so far as to build bomb shelters and larders, I do like to glance around from my currently safe Linux and see where my emergency exits are - just in case I ever have to use them.

BSD looks like a great choice. Somehow, it seems like the BSD people manage to keep their heads while penguins all around are losing theirs. There's less zealotry (oh, but zealotry can be a good thing! But it usually isn't.) amongst the users, it's less popular and hence less likely to be dumbed down to the lowest common denominator.

OpenSolaris shows promise. Right now, that seems to be *all* it has to show, but it has the advantage, like Unix-descendants did a couple decades ago, of being derived from a commercial company's system. I will be watching the Sun god's progress with interest.

Plan 9 - I'm sorry, but it is either light-years ahead of it's time, or it's time simply never happened. I'm keeping it around as a fetish, but I'd hate to have to rely on it as my sole system. Of course, if more people took to it, it might go somewhere. And if I had wings, I could fly...

GNU/HURD...not even considerable. GNU is so tied to Linux, that whatever happens to Linux happens also to it. It could be a globe-conquering behemoth in the right hands - but it's founder is more interested in fighting than fixing. So there's no brains to go along with all that brawn, and others have to supply the brainpower in order to put the brawn to work.

Distros and systems may come and go, and I have a feeling that we'll be seeing a lot more coming than going, but the Free and Open Source Software world is here to stay. I am comfortable knowing now that I will always have somewhere to go. The challenge is to stay far enough ahead of the mob that you're always far away from the lowest denominator, while not being so far off that you get lost.

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