Last year was a big one for Linux. On its 25th anniversary, the open-source operating system saw its desktop market share climb above 2 percent—thanks in part to some major distributions—and even saw Microsoft throw its weight behind it.
The news that Microsoft had joined the Linux Foundation as a platinum member came as a surprise to many, especially considering the rocky relationship the two have shared over the years. Former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer famously once stated: “Linux is a cancer”—a far cry from current CEO Satya Nadella’s proclamation that “Microsoft loves Linux.”
The support from Microsoft is recognition of the growing importance of Linux. Its growth is widely expected to continue in 2017, with analysts and pundits predicting Linux’s desktop market share to grow even more significantly than last year, pegging the cap somewhere between 3 and 5 percent. The likes of Elementary OS releasing a user-friendly desktop in 2017 will help fuel that growth, which could ultimately see Linux double its current market share.
This rise in popularity will inevitably garner the attention of hackers on the lookout for vulnerabilities to exploit. Linux is everywhere—from corporations to critical infrastructure, smartphones to supercomputers—and its stability and security is crucial.
Traditionally, Linux has been relatively well protected from malicious actors due to its open source nature. The so-called Linus’s Law—that “given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”—has helped make Linux the success it is today, but the shift in Linux users from developers to end users puts such logic in jeopardy.
In December, software developer Donncha O’Cearbhaill reported receiving an offer of more than $10,000 from an exploit vendor after uncovering two Ubuntu desktop bugs. In a blogpost, O’Cearbhaill warned: “These financial motivators are only increasing… We need to find sustainable ways to incentivize researchers to find and disclose issues and to get bugs fixed.”
As its user base grows, so do the risks, and Linux users will need to be increasingly vigilant in 2017.