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Millennial Linux

The turn of the millennium was the time of the biggest hype around Linux: in 1999, Red Hat was the first Linux company to be floated with spectacular success; share prices quadrupled on the first day of trading (but substantially dropped in value again when the .com bubble burst). The Linux Professional Institute (LPI) published its first distribution-independent Linux exam in 2000. To prevent Linux from following Unix's example and splitting up into numerous incompatible versions, the Free Standards Group was founded to create a Linux standard (the Free Standards Group – like the ELC – has since been incorporated into the Linux Foundation). In December 2000, IBM announced its intention to invest $1 billion in Linux.

In early 2001, Linux kernel version 2.4 advanced to the spheres of the commercial Unix variants: powerful SMP operation with up to eight processors, 64 GB of RAM on x86 processors, raw devices, and a 64-bit file system. Firewire and USB support, ACPI and Plug & Play for the ISA cards that were still common at the time also made the new kernel an attractive choice for desktop and notebook computers. Hardware vendors such as Intel and AMD began to step up their involvement in the development of Linux: good Linux support became more and more important in the server business. In 2002, Red Hat released its first Enterprise Linux.

With the increasing success of Linux, more and more businesses and public administrations began to contemplate the advantages of open source software. One country where Linux had a lot of success is Germany: the German national railways, Deutsche Bahn, decided to use Linux as a strategic server platform in 2003 – a decision that is still in force today. In the same year, Munich city council decided to migrate the city administration's 15,000 computers to Linux desktops – in April 2011, the city had reason to celebrate: half of the computers had been migrated to the Munich LiMux client. The German Foreign Office started to introduce open source software in 2001, and desktops were migrated to Linux from 2005 – though, of course, that project failed. The Linux desktops rolled out at insurance group Stuttgarter Versicherungsgruppe from 2003, on the other hand, are still in use today.

However, despite various high profile examples, the Linux desktop never managed to find widespread acceptance (Richard Hillesley, a regular writer on The H, explains some of the reasons in this article). Repeatedly proclaimed until about 2006, the "Year of the Linux Desktop" never actually happened; and not even the dedicated Ubuntu desktop distribution that has stirred up the Linux world since 2004, but has never really been able to score against Windows, has managed to change that. Linux is successful on servers and on embedded devices. By the time Android, Google's smartphone and tablet system with a Linux kernel, was released in 2008, Linux had long established itself in industrial control systems, Wi-Fi routers, DVD players and satellite navigation systems.

In December 2003, the Linux kernel jumped to version 2.6. This version introduced the SELinux security extension, a new device model accessible via sysfs, and a memory management solution suitable for modern high-performance computers, as well as a thoroughly revised kernel codebase that removed many limitations and provided clearer structure. The kernel developers are still benefiting from their clean-up operation now: they have been able, without major problems, to integrate completely new features such as virtualisation and a substantially improved scaling concept that allows Linux to run even on the most powerful supercomputers.

With Linux 2.6, Torvalds changed the development model: the developer kernel was no more, as new features and improvements are added to the current kernel gradually via updates that are released at regular intervals every two to three months. The version jumps that kept causing confusion during the transition periods have been replaced by steady progress.

Xen, the first virtualisation solution for Linux, caused considerable commotion in the Linux world in 2005; but it would take the developers another six years to integrate all of the Xen code into the kernel. Meanwhile, the alternative KVM (Kernel-based Virtual Machines) solution that turns the Linux kernel itself into a hypervisor was so popular among the kernel developers that it made it into the kernel with version 2.6.20 in early 2007.

Next: Dark clouds and bright future

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