Linux Format logo

Difference Engine

This month, Andrew and I were lucky enough to be able to travel to Portland, Oregon, to attend O’Reilly’s open source conference (OSCON). It was a good one, but after travelling all that way, one of the best talks came from a fellow Brit, John Graham-Cumming.

John is a programmer currently best known for petitioning the British Government to apologise for its persecution of Alan Turing. But I was reminded of his OSCON speech after reading Ben’s awesome feature on the next generation of system administration in this very issue (p34). His speech was a very entertaining short history of computing and how history has a tendency to repeat itself. Cloud computing, virtual machines, Wi-Fi, clicking on links; John demonstrated all were first described in the 50s, 60s and 70s. What was important, though, was how we now spin those ideas together. The Android tablet I’m typing this on (really!) contains nothing exactly ‘new’. It’s the combination of many of these old ideas into a previously impossible to achieve package that makes the difference.

Over the last decade, a similar thing has happened to system administration. It’s still the same old technology: networks, storage, security etc. But the way those technologies are being used is changing. This is most obvious in what everyone, except Richard Stallman, calls ‘The Cloud’, old ideas woven into a new dimension. It’s pushing change through at an incredible pace, just like when home computing exploded in the 80s, and it’s exactly these developments that Ben tackles in this month’s cover feature. But the most amazing thing for me is that while all those incredible formative developments took place in expensive and exclusive computer laboratories, you can play with any of these latest developments on any modest Linux box. And that’s the real revolution.

Your comments