Is Linux innovative?
By eschrock on Jul 20, 2004
In a departure from recent musings on the inner workings of Solaris, I thought I'd examine one of the issues that Bryan has touched on in his blog. Bryan has been looking at some of the larger issues regarding OS innovation, commoditization, and academic research. I thought I'd take a direct approach by examining our nearest competitor, Linux.
Bryan probably said it best: We believe that the operating system is a nexus of innovation.
I don't have a lot of experience with the Linux community, but my impression is that the OS is perceived as a commodity. As a result, Linux is just another OS; albeit one with open source and a large community to back it up. I see a lot of comments like "Linux basically does everything Solaris does" and "Solaris has a lot more features, but Linux is catching up." Very rarely do I see mention of features that blow Solaris (or other operating systems) out of the water. Linus himself has said:
A lot of the exciting work ends up being all user space crap. I mean, exciting in the sense that I wouldn't car [sic], but if you look at the big picture, that's actually where most of the effort and most of the innovation goes.
So Linus seems to agree with my intuition, but I'm in unfamiliar territory here. So, I pose the question:
Is the Linux operating system a source of innovation?
This is a specific question: I'm interested only in software innovation relating to the OS. Issues such as open source, ISV suport, and hardware compatibility are irrelevant, as well as software which is not part of the kernel or doesn't depend on its facilities. I consider software such as the Solaris ptools as falling under the purview of the operating system, because they work hand-in-hand with the /proc filesystem, a kernel facility. Software such as GNOME, KDE, X, GNU tools, etc, are all independent of the OS and not germane to this discussion. I'm also less interested in purely academic work; one of the pitfalls of academic projects is that they rarely see the light of day in a real-world commercial setting. Of course, most innovative work must begin as research before it can be viable in the industry, but certainly proven technologies make better examples.
I can name dozens of Solaris innovations, but only a handful of Linux ones. This could simply be because I know so much about Solaris and so little about Linux; I freely acknowledge that I'm no Linux expert. So are there great Linux OS innovations out there that I'm just not aware of?