As I mentioned yesterday, my book, The Librarian’s Guide to Academic Research in the Cloud is now out. The book focuses on how to think about and use cloud services in academic research, but the final chapter looks to the future of cloud computing. This is an excerpt from that chapter that seemed to belong here.
The Rise of Linux
Related to the potential rise of thin clients is the potential rise of the Linux operating system. Linux is based upon the Unix operating system and has historically been seen as a powerful, common server tool that is also used by some people as a desktop operating system. While there’s a wide range of software available for Linux, the desktop software ecosystem has never been able to compete with either Windows or OS X. Because of this lack of commercial software, Linux adaptation has been low, although there are quite a few vocal enthusiasts and public Linux communities. Enough so that despite the low adaptation rate, many of the services discussed within this book have some sort of Linux client. But because so many cloud services are designed to be interacted with via a browser, Linux has become a much more viable choice for users who wish to explore an alternative operating system, either for political, economic, or usability reasons.
As mentioned previously, Linux is based upon the Unix operating system. Linux is open source, meaning users can modify it. Linux is also cost-free. In fact, much of the work of Linux is built on the work of unpaid contributors around the world. The fact that it is open source means the code is always publicly available for anyone to use or to work with. This contrasts with OS X, Windows,and iOS, all of which use a proprietary code base to which only employees of the companies connected to the operating system have access.
Users seem to choose desktop Linux for several reasons. Many users gravitate to Linux because of its open source philosophy. Others choose it because it tends to be more customizable than proprietary operating systems, which need to restrict access to their code for competitive purposes. Others choose Linux because it is cost free. And others choose it because it tends to run better on older hardware, although that depends upon the type of Linux software being used.
A common barrier to entry for Linux for many has always been software. For instance, while there is a version of Microsoft Office for Windows and for OS X, there is none for Linux. And while there are many word processors for Linux, as mentioned in chapter 5, it can often be challenging to share work between two different versions of word processors. But with the rise of services available in the browser, Linux users no longer need to worry about compatibility. A Zoho document will open in any desktop web browser, regardless of the operating system powering the browser. Someone looking to experiment with Linux does not need to worry about finding the right Linux software to work with a file. Instead, the user can just use her browser and go ahead with her work.
Just as thin clients are a viable tool because so much work can be done using the browser, Linux also becomes a more viable choice when users do not need to worry about local software.
The Librarian’s Guide to Academic Research in the Cloud is available from Chandos Publishing. It is also available as an e-book on Chandos Publishing Online.