Let’s change tack and talk about open-source soft­ware and Linux—stop groan­ing at the back! You won’t be run­ning desk­top Linux, and that’s fine, we’re not here to con­vince you to, but the ma­jor­ity of the world’s servers and vir­tual machines do run Linux. Why?

This sounds like a con­tra­dic­tion, but it’s not be­cause the soft­ware is free (tech­ni­cally, yes it is, but it costs to de­ploy and sup­port it); it’s be­cause the soft­ware has been freed un­der the GNU GPL (Gen­eral Pub­lic Li­cense).

Back in the day, Mi­crosoft re­quired a Win­dows li­cense for ev­ery phys­i­cal pro­ces­sor in a sys­tem. Think about that for a mo­ment. For your desk­top, who cares? But even mod­est work­sta­tions have dual CPUs. And what about en­ter­prises that run ware­house-sized server in­stal­la­tions? Even worse, what do you do if you want to spin up in­fini­ties of vir­tual hosts on the fly?

The open li­cense na­ture of Linux, and the as­so­ci­ated open-source soft­ware ecosys­tem, just makes ev­ery­one’s lives eas­ier when it comes to de­ploy­ing it in com­plex en­vi­ron­ments. Even if there were no cost sav­ings, that alone made it com­pelling for busi­ness—but that was just one driv­ing fac­tor.

The same is­sues and more ap­plied to academia and re­search: Not only the free­dom to use the soft­ware, but to study, re­search, and mod­ify the source code at will, with no re­stric­tions—other than the stip­u­la­tion of the GPL to share your changes back.

This cre­ates a ven­er­a­ble feed­back loop of de­vel­op­ment: Stu­dents study and en­hance the Linux ker­nel, busi­nesses uti­lize and op­ti­mize the ker­nel, re­searchers ex­plore and de­velop en­tire new sys­tems. The stu­dents move on to the pro­fes­sional world, tak­ing their open-source work and ideas with them, and so on. It’s this type of progress that even­tu­ally leads to ev­ery sin­gle su­per­com­puter in the world’s top 500 run­ning Linux ( statis­tics/over­time). Per­haps RISC-V will ex­pe­ri­ence the same….

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