THE OPEN WAY
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 ( www.top500.org/ statistics/overtime). Perhaps RISC-V will experience the same….