What’s the single biggest advancement Linux has brought to the industry?
It’s an interesting question, and one that in my opinion has a very simple answer: Package management—or, more specifically, the ability to install and upgrade software over the network in a seamlessly integrated fashion—along with the distributed development model package management enabled.
It used to be that operating systems were big, monolithic products, and applications were big, monolithic products you put on top of them. If you wanted to deploy, say, a web application, you sourced the middleware stack (which itself was probably several big products too), you sourced the operating system, and you (often painfully) had to integrate the two yourself (or pay a big company lots of money to do it for you).
These days, you increasingly just “apt-get install whatever“.
In this world, where does the operating system end and the application begin? The line is increasingly blurred—for when applications are deployed using an OS facility, seamlessly integrated with the OS itself, is the result an application or a feature of the operating system? In fact, in a very real way, all software looks to become part of the operating system—or, at least, this has certainly been the trend in the Linux world.
What does this shift mean to the industry? For one thing, those of us that build operating systems as monolithic products have to change—it’s what users expect, and with a componentized operating system rather than a wad of stuff, it becomes far easier to push new innovations out into the marketplace and generally evolve the OS over time. Indeed, refashioning Solaris as a “distro” is the essence of Project Indiana—and package management is the key technology that will hold it all together.
So, the next time you read about how Project Indiana aims to make Solaris more “Linux-like”, keep in mind that what we’re actually “copying” is the distro model, not Linux itself—which, after all, is a kernel, and has nothing to do with the package management and so forth the distros (you know, like Debian) built above it. This, better than anything else, highlights the opportunity for Solaris: What people really know when they say they know “Linux” is the environment that exists around the Linux kernel—the distro—all of which Solaris can deliver, and more.