It’s been three decades since Linus Torvalds announced plans to release a free and open source operating system with a Unix-like feature set. In that time Linux has come a long, long way.

There are hundreds of desktop operating systems based on the Linux kernel, although they still have a pretty tiny market share when compared with Windows and macOS. But in some ways, Linux may be one of the world’s most versatile, most widely-used operating systems.

The Steam Deck handheld game console runs Linux

Linux now powers most of the servers that make the modern internet tick. It’s also installed on many IoT and embedded devices. And the Linux kernel is at the core of Google’s Chrome OS and Android operating systems (although that may change eventually).

Heck, you can even install Linux on a Windows PC and run native Linux applications within Windows 10.

So does the PinePhone.

In recent years developers have also started porting Linux to run on smartphones. That effort is very much a work in progress and I wouldn’t recommend most users replace an Android or iOS device with one running a mobile Linux distribution yet. But things are getting better all the time, and some folks are already using Linux phones like the PinePhone as their daily driver.

You can even run Linux inside of Windows 10

Over the years independent developers as well as corporations have also created powerful applications for Linux including office suites, web browsers, photo and video editing and animation software, and even polished PC games. Gaming company Valve has also been making headway in turning Linux into a platform that can almost rival Windows for PC gaming, and the company’s upcoming Steam Deck handheld game console will be powered by Linux.

Like I said, Linux has come a long way in 30 years. Who knows where it will go in the next 30?

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12 replies on “Linux turns 30, and today it’s everywhere”

  1. Linux has such a groundswell behind it, and much support but Fuchsia is an unknown challenger with big backers claiming to be sexier, leaner, meaner. Big Tech backed alternatives tend to do quite well, this could very well be “peak linux”.

  2. Also to add;

    “Gaming company Valve has also been making headway in turning Linux into a platform that can almost rival Windows for PC gaming, and the company’s upcoming Steam Deck handheld game console will be powered by Linux.”

    I think Brad kind of missed a point there. Valve is simply in it for the money. With linux, you don’t have to pay licensing fees, unlike with Windows. There’s a huge financial incentive for them to switch to Linux.

    1. Nope, that is the point. That’s also probably the main reason it’s powering servers, Android and iOS devices, and IoT products.

      But even if not everyone involved in expanding the use of Linux is committed to the ideals of free and open source software, the fact is that Linux is everywhere these days, and its use seems to be growing… At least until/unless Google decides to drop it and move to something developed in house. But even then, it’ll still be remarkably widely used for something that started off as a hobby project created by a 21 year old three decades ago.

    2. More complicated than the licence fees.

      Valve does not want to be dependent on Windows as a platform, because Microsoft runs the competing Windows Store, and on that playing field, Microsoft can do any number of shennaningans to entice people to buy stuff on their store rather than on Steam, just like they do with the competitor browsers.

      Valve is fighting the same battle anyone is facing when they are competing against products built-in by the platform vendors. In that respect, Linux is a truly neutral platform which does not compete against Valve’s business model. That is the attraction for Valve to Linux.

  3. Hopefully in 30 years gaming on Linux will be as good as Windows. Windows is effectively free of cost for me, so I am not holding my breath.

  4. Linux left a sour taste in my mouth after trying 17 distros over a year and a half, and none would work well enough for me to use as a day to day workstation OS. Each had their own bugs, which ranged from severe to moderate, and a couple even refused to boot at all on my hardware.

    I always preferred Xfce, ever since the 8.04 days. But even today, I feel like for all the progress linux has made, it still isn’t anywhere near up to par with other OS’s in terms of usability and features. Linux as a workstation OS is junk, frankly.

    I have much to say on this subject, but I’ll just leave it at that. After 13 years with (mostly) linux, I finally had enough and jumped ship. I got tired of spending more time tweaking and fixing my system than actually using it.

    Still, the one and only thing that Linux has going for it in my eyes, is the amount of control you have over your system, and the ability to customize it and spin your own distro. You can’t do that with Apple or Microsoft.

    1. Been running Linux as my work and main home OS for about six years now.

      It’s not perfect, but it does what I need it to do, and usually more easily and faster than I could on competing platforms. And runs better on my hardware.

      That won’t be everyone’s experience, but it simply is not the case that Windows or MacOS are more reliable, or more prone to interfere with your work. When those OSs have major critical snaffus, you have to wait a month for them to push out an update. If you’re lucky. With Linux you can just fix it yourself / jump on another distro.

  5. Here’s a pessimistic prediction that I really want to be wrong:
    Kernel development totally collapses due to internal political struggles (partially, but not entirely, using external political struggles as leverage), and from forcing Rust into it making compiling the Kernel a massive pain in the rear, and an even bigger one outside of x86. Attention moves to Fuchsia and Zircon being pushed ahead as a replacement by a company with way more money than the Linux Foundation that wants a stable driver interface to both make porting easier and to allow it to insert backdoors directly into proprietary driver modules, without which your computer won’t work at all.
    Unlikely to last even 10 more years.

    1. Except why would anyone except Google want to depend on Google for their infrastructure?

      The main advantage to Linux for most big tech companies is that none of their competitors (i.e. Microsoft or Apple) control their own operations.

      Fuscia will run on Google consumer devices and maybe some Google infrastructure. No one else will want to touch it.

      1. Because once kernel development slows to an unacceptable pace because its developers are too busy with who’s on what side of the social issues of society, there’s no better option. So the theory goes. Zircon is free open source software, although derivatives of it can be proprietary, so there’s no licensing fees to worry about, and developing a competing kernel would be hard, just like developing a competing browser engine is hard (actually impossible due to runaway standards growth).
        Of course, Google might simply create a fork of the Linux kernel or plant their employees on directory panels for Linux distros to re-base their distros off the fork. They could do that with Zircon too, it’s just a matter of timing and what’s more intact at the moment.
        For the record, I didn’t come up with this, although the place I got this prediction from might as well have been Hell, for all the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.

        1. I’m generally pessimistic, but this is very doubtful. People got hysterical about culture war nonsense coming to the kernel at one point last year, but that fizzled out completely in about two weeks. And Linus and the rest of the top maintainers were complete pros about it.

          The problem with Zircon is exactly its permissive license. If you fork it, you are signing up to maintaining your own kernel. Not sure how many companies want to do that when you already have a tried and true, battle-hardened kernel that is still perfectly adequate for today’s requirements.

          The only way Linux will decline is if it will be found to be somehow structurally unable to deal with companies’ business requirements at some point in the future. I guess that can happen in principle, but I have yet to come across any example of this so far.

  6. I’m old enough to have started on Red Hat 6, and now I daily drive Linux Mint across 3 diff machines. Amazing how approachable it is these days. Gaming wasn’t a hope of mine until the last 3-4yrs on a Linux box, and it’s amazing. I suspect, with Microsoft and Apple’s newest directions(up their own a…), Linux may be the future for anyone unable to get the latest hardware, but still having good enough hardware to run any game.

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