Your editor doesn't really know any more about what will happen this year
than anybody else. But he has never been one to let such a difficulty stop
him from embarrassing himself by posting predictions in front of thousands
of people. So, without further ado, here's a set of highly unlikely
prognostications for the coming year. As usual, no warranty applies.
The GPLv3 process will dominate the news for the first half of the
year. The FSF seems fully aware of the stakes involved in a new version of
the GPL, and Eben Moglen is the ideal person to push this effort forward.
But there is no way that changes to such a fundamental document could be
anything but controversial. How the FSF handles the feedback it gets will
determine whether the resulting license is widely respected - and used.
The non-free kernel module issue will come to a head this year.
Patience with these modules has been fading for years, while concern over
the lack of free drivers for certain types of hardware is on the increase.
This year, some developer or other is likely to force the issue and mount a
more direct challenge to the legality of proprietary kernel modules.
Others, meanwhile, will continue to make them harder to write and
maintain. Either way, we may reach a point where the maintenance of, for
example, proprietary drivers for video cards is no longer feasible.
Whether the end result is the release of free drivers or the complete
withdrawal of support remains to be seen.
The broadcast flag will be back, and European software patents too.
The interests behind this sort of legislation never give up, so we'll never
be able to stop fighting. But if we keep up the battle, we stand a
respectable chance of winning much of the time.
2006 will be the year of Linux on the desktop. Just like the last
ten years. Don't expect any amazing advances, just slow, steady progress.
The applications will get better, and people will slowly see more reasons
to run Linux. Governmental mandates for open document formats - likely to
proceed despite the tactics used in Massachusetts - will help in this
The world will begin to discover alternatives to OpenOffice.org.
OpenOffice is great stuff, and it lets Office workers move over to free
software without overly disrupting their world. But there is a great deal
of interesting work being done on platforms like AbiWord, KOffice,
Gnumeric, etc. Once people get past "looks like Office" and start to
concern themselves with issues like memory footprint or innovative new
features, they will become more open to alternatives. Luckily for us, the
free software community is strong enough to be able to provide those
De-bloating will gain on new features as a development priority in
many projects. This work will be driven partly by a general unease with
the size of our systems, and partly by the increase in the number of
developing-country hackers who are particularly motivated to make things
run well on older, less capable hardware.
Perl 6 will not be released; it may not even be completely specified
by the end of the year. We will, however, start seeing Perl 5
releases with more backported Perl 6 features.
The Fedora project will have to make changes to preserve developer
and user interest in 2006. Fedora is still hard to contribute to, its
decision process is relatively opaque, the
promised Fedora Foundation is missing, the short support period keeps users
on an upgrade treadmill, Fedora Legacy is not staffed at a level where
it can be relied upon, and, crucially, other free, leading-edge
distributions (OpenSUSE, Ubuntu) are increasingly competing for the same
users. Fedora remains a top-quality distribution, but it risks losing some
of the user and developer energy which makes it an important distribution.
Debian 'etch' will be released in December, on schedule -- or, at
least, very close to it. The Debian developers are tired of their
reputation for unreliable release schedules and see an opportunity to
improve the situation.
Emacs 22 will be released. This prediction may seem like more of a
stretch than even the Debian release, but the time is coming for the emacs
hackers to show the world that they have not been idle all these years.
The pace of kernel development will not slow. The increased
emphasis placed on avoiding regressions and user-space breakage will
continue, however, and the quality of kernel releases will continue to go
up. The kernel available one year from now will be substantially different
from the current 2.6.15 release - but it will be good stuff.
There will be an increasing number of Linux-based gadgets
available. Embedded Linux is finally reaching the potential it has
shown for many years, and it will show up in no end of interesting new
toys. Unfortunately, most of those toys will be locked down and not
Novell will get its act together and become a truly successful
Linux-based company. This result will be a combination of long experience
in selling to large businesses, clueful people on staff, and a strong
desire among customers to have more than one vendor to choose from.
Ubuntu/Canonical will start to make some real money. At some point the
company has to bring in some revenue if it is to be sustainable over the
long term. But, more to the point, the Ubuntu folks seem to be doing many
things right: generating interest in the user and developer communities
while pursuing goals (such as application certification) which make large
iPod users will begin to notice two free operating systems for their
toys, being iPodLinux and, toward the end of
the year, Rockbox.
The latter should be especially interesting to blind users, thanks to its
voice menu feature. The advantages of free software for gadgets will
become clear to more people - but so will the conflict with DRM schemes.
A Firefox vulnerability will be used to compromise systems. Firefox
is too big and complex to be without vulnerabilities, and it is becoming
too popular to ignore.
The SCO case will drag on, perhaps severely reduced by renewed
motions from IBM and Novell. But few people will care anymore.
The safest prediction of all, of course, is that Linux and free software
will continue to improve. The development momentum behind the free
software community is truly amazing, and it shows no signs of slowing
down. Whatever else happens over the next year, our systems will be
stronger and more fun to work with. Your editor is looking forward to it.
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