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Linux today has millions of users, thousands of developers, and a growing market. It is used in embedded systems; it is used to control robotic devices; it has flown on the space shuttle. I'd like to say that I knew this would happen, that it's all part of the plan for world domination. But honestly this has all taken me a bit by surprise. I was much more aware of the transition from one Linux user to one hundred Linux users than the transition from one hundred to one million users.
Linux has succeeded not because the original goal was to make it widely portable and widely available, but because it was based on good design principles and a good development model. This strong foundation made portability and availability easier to achieve.
Contrast Linux for a moment with ventures that have had strong commercial backing, like Java or Windows NT. The excitement about Java has convinced many people that ``write once, run anywhere'' is a worthy goal. We're moving into a time when a wider and wider range of hardware is being used for computing, so indeed this is an important value. Sun didn't invent the idea of ``write once, run anywhere,'' however. Portability has long been a holy grail of the computer industry. Microsoft, for example, originally hoped that Windows NT would be a portable operating system, one that could run on Intel machines, but also on RISC machines common in the workstation environment. Linux never had such an ambitious original goal. It's ironic, then, that Linux has become such a successful medium for cross-platform code.
Originally Linux was targeted at only one architecture: the Intel 386. Today Linux runs on everything from PalmPilots to Alpha workstations; it is the most widely ported operating system available for PCs. If you write a program to run on Linux, then, for a wide range of machines, that program can be ``write once, run anywhere.'' It's interesting to look at the decisions that went into the design of Linux, and how the Linux development effort evolved, to see how Linux managed to become something that was not at all part of the original vision.