Linus Torvalds, founder of the Linux kernel, made a startling comment at LinuxCon in Portland, Ore., on Monday: "Linux is bloated." While the open-source community has long pointed the finger at Microsoft's Windows as bloated, it appears that with success has come added heft, heft that makes Linux "huge and scary now," according to Torvalds.
Has Linux failed?
No. Of course not. It has simply grown as its adoption has expanded. This is the problem with success: you get pulled into an ever-widening array of tasks.
So, while Torvalds declared "We are definitely not the streamlined, hyper-efficient kernel I envisioned when I started writing Linux," Linux is also not the limited-purpose/function kernel he initially envisioned. It's powering everything from corporate data centers to over half of all new smartphones shipped, as the Linux Foundation's Jim Zemlin noted in his opening keynote.
Even so, it begs a question: will Linux become more like Windows as it becomes even more successful?
I suspect that successful open-source projects, generally, will increasingly look more like Microsoft as they grow. Simultaneously, Microsoft is slowly learning from open source, and I think it will capitulate, too.
Will we meet in the middle? Probably. For now, Linux may be getting a bit chubby, but that's likely cause for celebration, not hand-wringing.
Update @ 6:43 A.M. on Tuesday, September 22, 2009:
One thing that I forgot to mention, but which is critical to the success of Linux, is that there really is no such thing as monolithic "Linux." Linux is highly modular and can be trimmed down/beefed up to fit a wide variety of applications...on the developers' terms, not Red Hat's, Novell's, Canonical's, etc.
So, unlike Windows, which can only be what Microsoft dictates, Linux can truly be all things to all people, as "fat" or as "skinny" as the developer wants it to be. Ubuntu is obese compared to sub-100 KB uClinux distributions, for example. Both serve different, and useful, purposes.