Monday, October 12, 2020

Why is Linux free?

Linux is secure, fast, reliable and.. free? If that seems too good to be true you need to know more about Linux.
Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

On previous posts, we discussed why use Linux and one of our most compelling arguments to use Linux is that Linux is free. But since Linux is so secure, fast, reliable, how can it be free? Let's understand what that means and how it happens.

A little history

Avoiding jumping too much back in history, it's important to understand the contribution model in which Linux was built. Once upon a time, there was a developer named Linus Torvalds who wanted to build a kernel to run a free Unix clone at home. He named the project Linux (Linux + Unix) and sent a message to the world looking for volunteers.

That project attracted so much attention that soon, hundreds of other developers joined that cause forming a big network of contributors. Linux, the kernel was the missing piece to produce a completely free operating system as most of the tools were already built on the GNU operating system.

The first distributions

With all the pieces to build a free and open-source operating system available, developers started creating the first Linux distributions. Some of them you may have heard of: Debian, Red Hat and Slackware, the most popular ones.

What about now?

The fact that Linux runs everywhere and that thousands of successful products are built on top of it, is the biggest motivator to use it. It's estimated that today the Linux kernel be worth $5 billion dollars. Given its licensing model, companies building new products today (for example, Tesla, Google or even Microsoft) can leverage Linux and more quickly reach the market saving them literally millions of dollars.

Today, Linux's development is supervised by Linus and sponsored by the Linux Foundation which employs Linus, Greg Kroah-Hartman (and others) to coordinate and foster the development of Linux around the world.

But this model does not only apply to Linux itself. The GNU project and thousands of other larger and smaller projects are being developed every single day by anonymous contributors worldwide following the same methodology.

But why is Linux is free?

Because the Linux kernel, the GNU operating system and all other tools needed to create a free operating system are available as open-source software respecting the premises of the free-software movement fostered by the GNU foundation, it's guaranteed that, as long as there are volunteers to build the distributions, you'll have a free/open-source operating system to run wherever you want.

And this is exactly what happens.

Linux Distributions

Today we have two different lines of Linux distributions being built and available for free: community-based distributions and enterprise-sponsored distributions. Let's review them.

Community-based distributions

Community-based distributions are Linux systems built by volunteers and living of donations. The most popular these days are:

Commercially-sponsored distributions

For brevity, let's define as commercially-sponsored, those distributions that receive grants from commercial companies to support the development and maintenance of those systems. Note that there's nothing wrong with this category since most of the distributions run completely independently from their commercial institution. The most popular are:

But one could charge for it, couldn't they?

The short answer is a definitely yes! And indeed some companies charge for it one way or another. And how do they make money? Well, read the next section to understand.

How companies make money with Linux

Differently from this blog, Linux is not all about charity. There's lots of money being made on it today. Essentially, companies can use Linux in virtually any line of business. Just to illustrate some:

  • support
  • training
  • certification
  • licenses
  • building products around it
  • cloud services
  • storage solutions
  • networking solutions
  • ads
  • social networks
  • cars
  • TVs
  • Watches
  • and more, much more! 😊

Conclusion

On this post we reviewed briefly how Linux was created and how it's license model guarantees that it will remain free for future generations. We also touched briefly on how companies leverage Linux to get faster to the market and to make money. Regardless of who builds your favorite distro, all of us benefit from this massive chain of anonymous contributions.

Hope it helps!

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