The Case of the Hidden Linux

Like many great mysteries over the ages, the case of the hidden Linux confounds even the Sherlock Holmes types. We know Linux is there somewhere, but we just can't quite seem to find it. It's hidden deep underneath other layers of software, invisible to the naked eye, but it still exists.

OK, maybe hidden Linux isn't really a great mystery to be solved. But seriously, we do sometimes forget how many of the websites, applications, and devices that we use every day contain Linux and other open source software buried deep underneath the layers that are visible to ordinary users. Jay Lyman at The 451 Group predicts that 2010 will kick off the era of hidden Linux, and says that "while we can expect major market gains and new inroads for Linux, the further the open source OS spreads, the less likely we are to really see how far."

Embedded devices have been a sweet spot for hidden Linux for years. The use of Linux in industrial applications has been well established for machine control, industrial automation tasks, and other industry usage. These industrial applications are completely completely invisible to consumers; however, many average consumers who wouldn't recognize a Linux box sitting in front of them use Linux every day in various set-top boxes, in-vehicle infotainment systems (a sweet spot for Moblin), and other consumer devices.

Jay calls out mobile devices saying that "Linux may be stronger than it ever has in mobile devices in 2010." He also points out that you won't see them branded with any mention of Linux. Instead, you'll see Moblin, Android and other brand names that are more cases of hidden Linux.

I've also talked about the use of open source and Linux in the cloud and for virtualization in many previous posts, and this is another common source of hidden Linux. Jay predicts that "with more support for community software and growing desire to build private and hybrid clouds, Linux (both commercial and community) figures prominently into the equation as a basic, flexible yet scalable building block. The end result is both use of Linux to build cloud infrastructure and availability of Linux in the clouds, even though it is likely to be labeled or branded something other than ‘Linux.’"

While hidden Linux isn't really a great mystery that requires Sherlock Holmes to solve, it is an increasingly important component in the open source ecosystem and in the broader technology industry that goes unnoticed and is taken for granted by many people.

Photo by Flickr user Jeffrey Beall used under Creative Commons.
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