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10 important Linux developments everyone should know about

Celebrating 10 years of Linux accomplishments

The Linux® technology, development model, and community have all been game-changing influences on the IT industry, and all we can really do is stand back and look at it all, happy to have been along for the ride for developerWorks’ first 10 years. The Linux zone team has put together this greatly abbreviated collection of things that stand out in our minds as having rocked the world of Linux in a significant way.

Much too much has happened with Linux in the last 10 years to do anything like a complete job of listing the important events and technological advances surrounding this operating system. But nevertheless, in celebration of our 10th birthday, the Linux zone team looks back and presents to you some major milestones, why they matter, and what we wrote about them. Please to enjoy.

Be sure to check out the developerWorks 10th birthday page to see what else is going on across the site, including a timeline of developerWorks events over the last 10 years.

1. Linux Professional Institute certification

In 2000, LPI announced the availability of test 1a, the first exam in its new Linux administrator certification program, a program that now consists of seven tests across three certification levels. developerWorks published its first series of LPI exam-prep tutorials by Daniel Robbins in 2002, and we’ve kept up with it ever since.

Why it matters: You can argue about the value of certifications, but the fact that employers were looking for a consistent measure of Linux expertise was one of many signs that Linux had arrived.

2. Samba

Andrew Tridgell’s Samba on Linux predates developerWorks by a good five or six years, but his implementation of Microsoft’s Server Message Block (SMB) protocol is such an important component of mixed networks everywhere that we really didn’t feel right not including it here.

Why it matters: In many companies, Linux snuck in as a Web server, firewall, e-mail server, or other specialized appliance. Why not try hiding in plain sight as a Windows® file and print server? Linux plays well with others, and this is proof.

3. Linux on S/390

"One box, one operating system" no longer applied to Linux when it arrived on the S/390® mainframe in early 2000.

Why it matters: You can now run numerous virtual Linux instances at once, distributing your costs across multiple application sessions running on a single piece of hardware. Plus, your Linux expertise now scales as well as your applications.

4. SELinux

Released under the GPL by the US National Security Agency in early 2001 and merged into the kernel since 2.6.0, Security Enhanced Linux provides support for a number of access control policy models, such as mandatory access control and role-based access control.

Why it matters: Although not the simplest thing to use, SELinux brings an additional level of security to Linux for installations for which discretionary access control is not enough. And there’s something sort of cool about the NSA giving technology away.

5. Linux LiveCDs

A LiveCD lets you boot Linux on a machine without actually installing anything on the hard drive—Linux boots from the CD or DVD and lives in RAM while running. Many distributions have LiveCD versions, and there are a number of LiveCD distributions created for specific tasks, such as system diagnosis and recovery.

Why it matters: Your favorite Linux distribution can generally be assumed not to be installed on any given machine, so for demos, trial software, the aforementioned diagnostic purposes, or just to show off Linux to a Windows user, having a self-contained disk that you can pop in and boot from is an invaluable tool.

6. Linux clusters

Linux users early on started chaining multiple boxes together to provide more fault tolerance or better performance. Beowulf, for one, was an important early architecture for multi-machine parallel computations. There’s even a load-balancing cluster LiveCD, ClusterKnoppix.

Why it matters: Cluster computing is supercomputing (or fault tolerance) for everyone, using free software and commodity hardware to achieve what only specialized, expensive systems could do before.

7. Linux supercomputing

Of course, tightly coupled, multi-core systems will always outperform networked boxes. Blue Gene®/L and the now Blue Gene/P running Linux are setting records in the most compute-intensive technical and scientific workload environments.

Why it matters: Besides the gee-whiz value of running the fastest computers on Earth, advanced techniques and standards for multiprocessing environments are flowing back to the rest of us for business computing.

8. Linux on Playstation

Sony has allowed and even encouraged the installation of Linux on its game consoles, and for developers interested in exploring Cell/B.E. programming, the PS3 is an accessible option.

Why it matters: Linux on the Playstation makes a fine computer and all, but frankly, in the greater scheme of things, we’re not sure it changes the Linux landscape all that much. Consider this a subversive high-five to all the hackers out there who try things like this just because you can™.

9. Virtualization

Virtualization allows one or more guest operating systems to run on top of another operating system that acts as the host. The 2.6.20 kernel was the first to include the Kernel Virtual Machine (KVM), but Xen, User-Mode Linux, QEMU, VMware, and other virtualization technologies are important as well.

Why it matters: Virtualization is a necessary ingredient of many cloud architectures. For developers, virtualization can be a good way to create a nice, safe sandbox for testing.

10. One Laptop Per Child

Announced in 2005, the OLPC project was created to provide low-cost, durable, connected computers to underprivileged children around the world. As much about the user interface as the hardware, the Linux-based Sugar operating environment is designed to encourage exploring and expressing rather than focusing on traditional productivity tools.

Why it matters: It’s a nice idea. It also represents a shift away from exposing Linux’s traditional user interface(s), to instead employing purpose-driven UIs that overlie and conceal the gory details of the operating system. Linux might win on the desktop by simply hiding the fact that it’s there.

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