The other day I was looking at the entries for Bill Gates and Steve Jobs on Wikipedia and I realized that they’re born in the same year, 1955… and Steve Ballmer was born just a few months into 1956. The men who have been charting the course of the Desktop OS market are in their 50’s.
About 16:15 into the video “How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People” they begin to discuss “bus-factor”: “the number of developers that have to get hit by a bus to leave you in a world of crap.”
Stretching the definition a little bit, I’m going to guess that the Apple bus-factor is 1: Steve Jobs (try not to be holding Apple stock if he ever gets really sick! ;) and the Microsoft bus-factor is 2: Gates and Ballmer. Of course, I don’t think that any of them will get hit with a bus per se; but they are going to have to retire sooner or later. Gates is making it sooner; mid-2008.
And that brings up an interesting point: who will fill the vacuum they leave behind? I don’t get the impression that Apple has an heir-apparent and after Ballmer eventually steps down, Microsoft may well splinter into warring fiefdoms, only marginally held in check at the moment. Meanwhile you have people like Mark Shuttleworth, a generation younger, who have some good ideas of how to get things done which are very different from how they’ve been done in the past (and with Linux, it would be infinitely easier to startup a new distribution if something happened to Shuttleworth than founding a new Windows or Mac OS).
I really do think that the future belongs to Linux. The passage there is what I’m concerned about though…