The year that was for Linux and Open Source
Open Source, especially Linux has never looked back ever since it gained traction at the turn of this century. As always, open source soared to new heights in 2014, but the journey was marred by a few significant setbacks. Here is a run-down of the lows and the highs of Linux and open source in 2014.
The Heartbleed bug, discovered in April 2014, is a major security vulnerability in OpenSSL software that lets hackers access the memory of data servers. This bug has put over 500,000 websites that use OpenSSL a sitting duck for cyber criminals on the lookout for sensitive personal information such as usernames, passwords and credit cards. The attacker could also exploit the bug to steal the server’s digital keys used to encrypt communications and access “cookie” data that web servers and browsers use to track individuals and ease log-in.
The origin of the bug lies in a glitchy piece of code written by Robin Seggelmann in 2011 for the OpenSSL project. Since Heartbeat, the part of OpenSSL where this bug resides, is not the main part of SSL and just one additional part of it, the code was not given much attention and everyone assumed that being open-source, the code was safe.
Heartbleed demolished the hitherto held myth of open source being superior in security and as something magical.
Systemd is the new Linux-specific system and service manager.
The problem stems from its complexity. It started off as a tool that controls what programs run when a Linux system boots up, similar to earlier tools such as SysV and Linux Standard Base (LSB) init scripts. Meant as a drop-in replacement to Unix and Linux’s traditional sysvinit daemon to get the Linux system running, Systemd expanded to absorb other utilities. Apart from getting the core programs running, Systemd starts a journal of system activity, the network stack, a cron-style job scheduler, user logins, and many other jobs. It goes on to handle power management, device management, mount points, cron, disk encryption, socket API/inetd, syslog, network configuration, login/session management, readahead, GPT partition discovery, container registration, hostname/locale/time management, and other things.
In short, Systemd has now made itself indispensible in many situations. It is now the default init system in most Linux distributions, and essential to run the GNOME 3.x desktop.
Most open source programmers hate Systemd as it has become a complex program that created new program dependencies and goes against the Linux philosophy of creating small tools to do just one job. From the end-user’s perspective, systemd puts so many of a program’s eggs in one system basket that there are tons of scenarios in which it can crash and bring down the whole system. But in addition, this means that plenty of non-kernel system upgrades will now require a reboot.
The new Systemd Linux system actually imports one of the major drawbacks or irritant of Windows!
Ubuntu Touch and Steam Machines:
Considering the hype that Ubuntu generated in 2013, 2014 was expected to be the year when this OS would scale new heights and Ubuntu Touch smartphones and tablets ship and/or SteamOS powered gaming machines would become commonplace. However, nothing happened.
The project has not frittered away though. The first Ubuntu Touch phone is expected to ship in February 2015 and the first SteamOS gaming console later in 2015.
The twin disasters of Heartbleed and Systemd have not taken the sheen away from Linux or Open Source. Open Source still continues to ride high as the preferred choice for developers.
2014 is the year when open source conclusively edged out Windows and Mac as the top-end operating system of choice. Credit goes to Android rather than Linux though, riding the wave of the mobile revolution in computing. In the web browser spacer, Google Chrome and the ever ubiquitous Mozilla Firefox have already gained a clear and definite edge over Microsoft long back. Now Chrome OS and desktop Linux distributions have started to gain critical ground in the OS space as well, propelling Linux as the top end-user operating system of choice. Dell shipped its first desktops with Google’s Chrome operating system in October 2014. Chrome OS has doubled its market share within a matter of just five months, and to counter the threat posed by Chrome, Microsoft has removed the license fee on certain Windows devices.
Open Source Programming:
Four out of five programmers now use or have recently used, open source development tools.
The world of IT is in the midst of an incredible boom in enterprise technology development, and open source is leading the boom. The open source market is filled with dynamism, witrh many vendors developing cutting edge products and innovations.
The end game came in 2014 when Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO admitted “Microsoft loves Linux.” To walk his talk, Microsoft has open-sourced much of .NET, is partnering with Canonical to bring Windows Server to OpenStack, and is supporting open-source Docker, a platform for distributed apps.
Microsoft’s virtual surrender probably came with the realization that there was too much software to write for any one company to do it by themselves, thereby validating open-source’s philosophy.
The rise of the cloud has been one of the big IT happenings in 2014, and here too open source, more specifically OpenStack, the free and open source platform rules the roost. Every major tech company in the world, even rivals such as Microsoft and VMware started backing OpenStack in 2014.
As things stand, Canonical remains the top Linux system on OpenStack, but is facing still challenge from Red Hat. The two companies are going all out to establish dominance in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) space, but whoever wins, at the end of the day, Linux remains the winner.
Docker is one of the most under-reported stories of 2014.
Docker is a new open source platform introduced in 2014, fast redefining data center and cloud computing. Docker makes it very easy to pack and ship software, and also allows running twice as many applications as before on legacy servers. Using Docker, companies can cut their data center costs effectively by half.
Docker’s claim to fame lies in container technology. This technology makes it possible to pack, ship, and run any application as a lightweight, portable, self sufficient container that can run virtually anywhere.
VM hypervisors are based on emulating virtual hardware, meaning that they remain fat in terms of system requirements. Containers on the other hand use shared operating systems and as such are more efficient than hypervisors in system resource terms. Containers rest on top of a single Linux instance, leaving behind the “useless 99.9% VM junk.”
Needless to say, more and more companies are moving server applications from virtual machines to Docker at a fast rate. Even Microsoft is now embracing Docker.
In balance, 2014 was a good year for Linux and Open Source software. The developments in the open-source space apart, that this was the year that proprietary software finally admitted defeated and started to embrace many of the concepts of open source. 2015 promises to be the year of Linux IT.
Image Credit: David Tames on Flickr