The last issue of December is traditionally a time for many publications to
look back at the past year. As we live through a year, it can be a hard
time to get a perspective on all that is happening; a review can help
develop a better understanding of what we have all experienced.
Besides, there's usually not much more to write about at the end of
In past years, your editor has reviewed the predictions made at the
beginning of the year. That exercise seems a little self-indulgent this
time around. So suffice to say that some of last January's predictions have
been borne out, and others not. We'll not go through all of them here.
Starting with one which didn't work out:
your editor's prediction that 2005 would see the end of SCO
was optimistic. We have seen the end of SCO in every way that
matters; what remains, at this point, is the ghoulish exercise of watching
it all fall apart and seeing where the pieces land. Following SCO is a
waste of time at this point, a morbid and pointless exercise in the
consequences of stupid decisions. We're looking forward to every minute of
Your editor's prediction that software patents would not be enacted in
Europe looked optimistic, especially in the first half of the year,
but turned out to be correct in the end. More to
the point, though: the free software community enjoyed legal victories in
almost every battle which was decided this year. No software patents, no
broadcast flag, the GPL upheld in German court, FAT patents thrown out,
etc. Next year may be tougher, but, for this year, we can all raise a
glass and toast our victories. It is not all hopeless.
Let us not forget our defeats, however. The Grokster decision holds
software developers responsible for the actions of their users - in some
situations, at least. The bnetd decision placed limits on our right to
create interoperable software. The situation is not all rosy either.
One battle which came to head this year was open formats: as of this
writing, the state of Massachusetts is still fighting over a mandate to use
open formats in government. Open access to government documents is a clear
requirement for a free society; it seems amazing that there is even a fight
on this issue. Open formats are also a key to the desktop for free
software. This is an important issue, and the debate has barely begun.
The free software community has acquired a pool of patents of its own.
Donations - of greater or lesser freedom - came from IBM, Sun, Nokia,
Computer Associates, and others. These patents can help to prevent attacks
from competitors in the software industry - though they will do little to
deter lawyer-only patent troll firms. But a partial solution is better
than none; one might well conclude that the risk of a patent attack against
free software is, while still significant, lower than it was a year ago.
For years, we have talked about the evils of digital restrictions
management schemes and the dangers inherent in not having control over our
own systems. But we can thank SonyBMG for making these points clear to a
much larger audience. "Consumers" everywhere have seen what happens when
others claim control over their systems. People who bought CDs because it
was the right thing to do saw that they were punished for it. Their desire
to do the right thing will be much reduced - and the entertainment industry
must know it. The DRM battle is far from over, and we have a great deal of
ugliness to endure yet. But SonyBMG may have shortened the process for us
2005 was, perhaps, the year of the foundation. A number of projects,
including Zope, Ubuntu, and OpenPKG created independent foundations to look
after their code. Red Hat also announced the creation of a Fedora
foundation, but, the better part of a year later, that foundation has yet
to materialize. The fundamental motivation behind all this founding of
foundations is easily found: software (even free software) controlled by a
single company tends to make other users nervous. The creation of an
independent foundation gives others confidence in a free software project's
The free software business world continues to develop. MandrakeSoft and
Conectiva merged into Mandriva, Novell went through some difficulties but
looks like it may be pulling things together, and the flow of venture
capital toward free software businesses increased. HP claimed to have
shipped over 1 million Linux servers. It seems there really is
business to be done around free software.
Meanwhile, the code continues to get better. The list of significant
releases is far too large to review here - check the latest version of your
favorite distribution to see much of it. Our development community is
active and healthy; it is producing results that few would have thought
possible even a few years ago. Ups and downs notwithstanding, 2005 has
been a good year for the community. We can all raise a glass to that.
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