Why Linux is the most important software project in history

Here’s another post that for some people is obvious, but there are other (e.g. high level managers) that might not necessarily see the importance of Linux, in fact, I have been surprised by many open source developers who don’t seem to be familiar with how Linux works (they think it’s just something that works?). The fact of the matter is that Linux is light years ahead of any other software project, open or closed, I’ll try to explain why.

BTW. By “Linux”, I mean the kernel, not the ecosystem. Which is the name of the project.


First of all, Linux runs everywhere; desktops, smartphones, routers, web servers, supercomputers, TVs, refrigerators, tablets, even on the stock market (London, NY, Johannesburg, etc.).

Not only it runs anywhere, but in many areas it’s the undisputed #1. In smartphones, Android already has the most market share, and grabbing more and more. In supercomputers, Linux has 92% of the TOP500. On servers, it’s 64%.

There’s a lot of benefits to having a single kernel that runs on all kinds of hardware, I’ll mention two examples.

One is the improvements in power consumption that all the embedded people have been pushing for not only benefit laptops and desktops, but even servers. Also, features like dynamic power management that works really well on embedded influence the desktop and server hardware.

Another one is the VFS scalability patches. Nick Piggin found some issues with 64 CPUs machines that require some reorganization of VFS. The problem is that it’s tricky to test issues with these patches, however, since also have a real-time community (they have their own patches, but eventually will get merged), they could find issues on these patches more easily.

Here’s a nice interview with Jim Zemlin from Linux Foundation that explains where Linux comes from, where it is, how it might very well become the building block of all devices in the future.


There’s many open projects, but not many where everyone is involved and working together. The Linux Foundation issues a yearly report of how the kernel is being developed, and you can see competing companies working together, such as Red Hat (12.4%), Novell (7.0%), IBM (6.9%), Intel (5.8%), Oracle (2.3%), Renesas (1.4.%), SGI (1.3%), Fujitsu (1.2%), Nokia (1.0%), HP (1.0%), Google (0.8%), AMD (0.8%), etc.

This is true synergy, not the management bullshit kind; nobody alone (Microsoft) can compete with what everyone together can produce (Linux).


The traffic of the main mailing list (LKML) is astronomical; 250 messages per day, but that’s only one mailing list, there are around 200 subsystem lists. Many of these lists have a lot of traffic as well, one I’m subscribed to is linux-media, which has around 30 messages per day.

And there’s a reason why so many people can follow so much traffic without it becoming a total mess. All kernel mailing lists follow common guidelines; you don’t have to be subscribed!, don’t do reply-to munging, encourage cross-posting, cc the right people, trim unnecessary context, and don’t top post.

Also very important is to send patches through the mailing list. You don’t even have to think about it, just type ‘git send-email’ with a proper –cc-cmd, and Linux’s get_maintainer.pl script would find the right maintainers and contributors to cc, and the proper mailing lists to send the patch to. Again, no need to be subscribed. More next.


I have explained before why sending patches through the mailing list is superior to bugzilla. But it can be summarized as; you don’t need to be subscribed, you don’t need to login anywhere, you don’t need to search for the right component, etc.

As an example I put myself. I am paid by Nokia to work on GStreamer stuff, yet, even though I have a bugzilla account and everything, it’s easier for me to submit (and get merged) patches to Linux (mostly on my free time); it’s just one command. It’s not only easier for me to submit patches, but also to review them; just click reply. I’m not even going to mention closed source, which is horrible in this area.

It is also rewarding that usually that the response to patches is immediate, however, sometimes there are so many comments that patch series have 3, 5, 10, even 30 revisions before they are accepted. This is great for quality reasons, not only for for the project, the developers involved also learn a lot.

Using a mailing list also means that it’s easy to switch from reviewing a patch to a new discussion, based on the patch, thus helping communication.


It is not surprising that such a fine tuned process the results of producing stable releases each three months like clockwork, introducing major features, and from 5 to 6 patches per hour.

I can’t really explain how many things are going on in Linux, but Jonathan Corbet does in his Kernel Report.


So, Linux is an incredibly massive endeavor, easy and fun to work with, an unstoppable behemoth in the software industry, and IMO companies trying to stand in its way are going to realize their mistake in a painful way.

17 thoughts on “Why Linux is the most important software project in history

  1. lkraav March 7, 2011 / 11:25

    well written felipe imho. wondering why there is no twitter share button?


  2. FelipeC March 7, 2011 / 12:28

    @lkraav Thanks! I’ve added a tweet button now 🙂


  3. louiz’ March 7, 2011 / 16:38

    And now I’m wondering why *there is* a twitter share button…
    That’s just useless.


  4. sreerenj balachandran March 8, 2011 / 21:43

    why linux? this is the elegant answer …. cool stuff..


  5. princess Angelic R. Catog October 26, 2011 / 02:41

    what is Linux how it works


  6. Isoball 3 September 28, 2012 / 14:06

    Hi there are using WordPress for your site platform?
    I’m new to the blog world but I’m trying to get started
    and create my own. Do you require any coding expertise to make your own blog?
    Any help would be greatly appreciated!


    • FelipeC September 28, 2012 / 14:24

      +Isoball 3

      Just create an account in wordpress.com


  7. Medieval Castle Defense October 20, 2012 / 09:39

    Hi, I believe your blog might be having browser compatibility problems.
    When I take a look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine but when opening
    in IE, it’s got some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other than that, great site!


  8. ishola olalekan . November 26, 2012 / 15:57

    pls help want to learn about linux. is there a way to do that .Thanks really appreciate your kindness.



  9. Objective Windows-Linux user May 16, 2015 / 07:27

    Sorry, I wouldn’t dare give an achievement like this to a kernel which can’t even handle an out of memory situation. Don’t have a swap partition and go out of memory, your computer just locks itself. Only resetting solves. People say this issue had been there for decades. But since Linus Torvalds is busy swearing to object oriented design, people just report the bug and the bug is still there. Shame.
    BTW, just because NT kernel is not everywhere, it doesn’t mean it CAN’T be everywhere.
    Sum up all you counted in this article, their number can’t pass the computers with Windows. Why is it not most important software project? Because you’re a Linux fan. Be objective, thanks.
    “IMO companies trying to stand in its way are going to realize their mistake in a painful way.” – Interesting they haven’t realized it for 25 years, right?
    Written using Debian.


    • FelipeC May 18, 2015 / 08:50

      Most companies work with Linux today. Others, like Nokia should have realized their mistake by now.


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