The operating platform that is guaranteed "here-to-stay." Since Linux is not owned, it cannot possibly be put out of business. The Linux General Public License (GPL) insures that development/maintenance will be provided as long as there are Linux users. There are a great number of highly-educated Linux users and tens of thousands of actively developed projects.
A platform which will technically develop at a rapid pace. This is insured by the modern, open-software development model which Linux implements: "build-on-the-back-of-the-previous-developer" and "peer-review-your-code" (as opposed to the anachronistic closed-software model: "always-start-from-scratch" and "nobody-will-see-my-code"). Even if the current "Linux hype" died out, Linux will develop as it did before the media hype started. Open source development does have its peculiarities: the development appears rather slow (vertically) but it proceeds on a very wide front, dangerous security bugs are fixed almost upon discovery, there are typically several alternatives for a program of similar functionality. Linux depth cannot be overestimated.
If you wanted to learn first-hand about the General Public License, check these famous GNU documents:
In a nutshell, the GNU General Public Licence (GPL) allows anybody to:
use the software at no charge, without any limitations,
copy, and distribute or sell unmodified copies of the software in the source or binary form,
use the software with propriatory (e.g., your own) modifications, free of charge, as long as you do not distribute or sell the modified version,
modify, and distribute or sell a modified version of the software as long as the source code is included and licenced on the same terms as the original you received (the GPL),
sell support for the software, without any limitations.
What the GPL license *does not* allow code recipients to do is to take somebody elses software licenced under GPL, modify the software, and then distrubute a this modified version of the software under a propriatory licence. Speaking plainly, the GPL licence just forbids stealing existing (somebody else's) software for incorporation into a closed, commercial-only product. However, you may incorporate GPL software in a commercial computer program if you obtain permission from the copyrigtht holder. GPL is certainly not more restrictive or imposing than a "typical" propriatory licence. GPL is a licence that grants the recipient right which he otherwise does not have, but takes away none. Excluded from the use of GPL are persons who have violated the GPL.
In general, copyright laws regulates 5 rights: to copy the work, to make derivative works, to distribute the work, to perform the work, and to display the work.
The GPL license under which Linux is distributed is probably the most important part of it. It is designed to perpetuate the freedom of information. Other important open-source projects include science and law (hardly a joke). The Linux method is really nothing new--it is simply the application of the scientific method to software: you get information free, you add your ideas and make your living, and finally, you leave it free. However, some big corporations and their lawyers seem to be trying hard to change this, to push us back in time, to the dark ages, when information was kept "proprietary." Hence, you see in newspapers some famous Linux-connected persons involved in all kinds of struggles.
To get a flavour for the value of Linux, here are some prices for commercial software as listed atwww.amazon.com. All prices are in $USA, as listed on 2001-02-03, with discounts. Roughly equivalent Linux software is included on almost any Linux CD set (but with no restrictions on the number of clients). In addition, the hardware for Linux is typically significantly less expensive, since Linux can run all services on a single server:
Microsoft Windows 2000 Server (5-client)--$848.99;
Microsoft Exchange 2000 Server (5-client)--$1,279.99;
Microsoft Outlook 2000 (1-client)--$94.99;
Systems Management Server 2.0 (10-Cals)--$994.99;
Proxy Server 2.0--$886.99;
Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition (5-client)--$1,229.99;
Microsoft SQL Server 2000 Standard Edition (1-user License)--$4,443.99;
Microsoft BackOffice Small Business Server 4.5 NT (Add-On 5-CAL)--$264.99;
Windows NT Server Prod Upgrade From BackOffice SBS Small Bus Server (25-client)--$558.99;
Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server Upgrade (25-client)--$3,121.99;
Microsoft FrontPage 2000--$129.99;
Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server --$664.99;
Site Server Commerce 3.0 (25-client)--$4,092.99;
Visual C++ 6.0 Professional Edition with Plus Pack--$525.99;
Microsoft Visual Basic Enterprise 6.0 with Plus Pack--$1,128.99;
Microsoft Visual Sourcesafe 6.0 CD--$469.99;
Microsoft Office 2000 Standard (1-client)--$384.99;
Adobe Photoshop 6.0--$551.99;
Microsoft Plus Game Pack--$19.99.
Linux (and thousands of other programs distributed under GPL) is often described as "free software". The word "free" has two quite different meanings in the English language, and it sometimes leads to misconceptions about the free nature of Linux. These two meanings follow the Latin adjective "liber" and the adverb "gratis," and they are often illustrated with the phrases "free speech" and "free (of charge) beer." Most Linux software is free in both senses, but it is only the first sense which is essential to Linux.