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Jim Zemlin to Developers: Learn Linux

The Linux Foundation executive director says Linux's dominance in consumer electronics is now 'without question and irreversible.'


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Last week in San Francisco, the Linux Foundation held its fourth annual collaboration summit for developers. The conference filled weeks ahead of time, according to Executive Director Jim Zemlin, and about half the attendees were new.

That's because Linux's dominance in consumer electronics is now "without question and irreversible," he told Devx contributor Deborah Gage, "whether you're creating an Amazon Kindle or a Barnes & Noble Nook or an Android or Nokia cell phone -- you name it. It's all Linux, and that's good."

Gage caught Zemlin on his way to Tokyo -- he spends most of his time on the road, he says -- and asked him five questions about the future of Linux.



Q: What do these changes you talk about in Linux mean for developers?

A: We're hiring -- we can't hire fast enough. The number one issue we're having is that as more and more organizations realize that they need a sophisticated operating system for devices, they have a serious shortage of skills. I wish I could charge for every time someone came up to me and said, "Do you know somebody I can hire?" At every level of the computing stack, whether it's writing apps for MeeGo or Android or the major linux OS's or at the systems level, it's a high, high growth area.

The best part for developers is that the way to build a resume is not by applying for a job -- you can do it online today by participating in an open source project and getting code out there.

Yes, more developers are doing this, but we wish they would do it more quickly. For instance, we host a free webinar -- a Linux training series on device drivers, performance and detailed tech tutorials from key gurus in the Linux industry -- and the first day we opened registration, we had 12,000 people register. It was a stunning response. But I still think there's a real shortage of developers.

Think about what it took 10 years ago to make a television. You didn't have a sophisticated software stack -- you needed a way to change channels and set the time. But now you have tens of millions of lines of code in any TV -- news, weather, sport s updates, a digital video recorder, the tech sometimes to download games. It's a completely different world, and it's not just in TVs, but in telephones and every aspect of consumer devices. We're seeing a sea change.

Q: Apple's iPad, even though it's a closed proprietary device, seems to be a big hit with developers and users. What difference does the iPad make to Linux?

A: People think the iPad is a cool device. Look at the connections to TVs or digital picture frames or ebook readers or automotive systems -- the nature of client computing itself is changing. It's not just connecting to a laptop to install Windows any longer. And the odds are better than not that 90 percent of these devices are running Linux.

So the fact that the iPad is redefining client computing is terrific for Linux, and the bar for Linux is equally fabulous. Apple positions iPad as a magical device at a breakthrough price, and when it comes to price competition, we've got that game. Our challenge is to create a magical experience, but I'm always bullish. We can be both free and fabulous - they're not mutually exclusive.

Q: Since companies are hiring Linux developers, which companies or projects should they be watching most closely?

A: LG, Qualcomm -- mobile and consumer electronics companies are ramping up big with Linux. Intel always. MeeGo [the collaboration announced by Intel and Nokia last month at MobileWorld Congress in Barcelona] -- that's a project to watch. It's really fundamental R&D. There are nearly 1,000 engineers working on this as I speak - it's a massive, massive project to create an OS like what I just described, to power everything from phones to TVs. We're at the very beginning of this.

Q: The last time we talked -- about 15 months ago -- you made some predictions, and I'd like to ask what you think of them now. You predicted more Linux phones, which seems to be true, but you also predicted more Linux laptops. What about those?

A: We need more progress in Linux-based laptops. Everyone has it as a default install, but Linux is still on the ascendancy in virtual desktops in large enterprises. But just as it took decades for Windows to become a near monopoly, so it will for Linux.

I'm excited about MeeGo -- it may be the single largest Linux development effort in the world right now. This is a second IBM moment for Linux. Remember the Superbowl ad, where IBM said it would spend $1 billion on Linux? You're seeing the exact same thing today.

Q: How about making some more predictions for Linux? What do you see happening next?

A: Five years from now, the picture frame on your wall will be digital and your refrigerator will have a barcode scanner and be connected to the Internet and give you recipes based on what you scan in your fridge, and they will definitely not be running Windows or Mac OS. They'll be running MeeGo or Android or maybe a custom version of Linux -- it's going to be Linux.

There will be new types of devices that we've never heard of or thought of before. I'm happy that at least a few of my predictions were spot on.


   
Deborah Gage is an award-winning journalist who has been writing about business and technology from Silicon Valley for over 15 years.
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