It's that time of year again. Traditionally the first LWN Weekly Edition
of the year includes some predictions of what may happen in the near
future. It is worthwhile, occasionally, to step back and think about what
may be on the horizon, even though the real thing will, as always, include
surprises that we are not able to anticipate.
Besides, real news tends to be scarce about now.
So, without further ado, here's a few Obviously Incorrect Predictions for
the next year.
- Use of Linux in government will increase, especially outside
of the U.S. Government, officials are increasingly concerned about
security, long-term public access to records, costs, and the health of
the local software industry. Free software offers help in all of
those areas. Governments move slowly, but there will be significant
steps toward governmental adoption of free software in the coming
- There will be high-profile desktop deployments, inside and
outside of government. Linux as a desktop system is good enough for
many users now, and is only getting better. As the number of success
stories grows, more organizations will take the plunge and switch over
to free software.
- There will be a direct patent challenge to one or more
free software products. Thus far, there has been a great deal of
nervousness about software patents, and people have occasionally had
to code their way around patent issues. But there has been a distinct
lack of actual infringement suits. Suing a free software user for
patent infringement will be a powerful way of creating uncertainty
throughout the community, however; 2003 may well be the year that this
weapon gets used.
- It will be a watershed year in intellectual property law, but
we are not foolish enough to try to predict which way it will go. It
could be that, in 2003, copyright extension is struck down, the DMCA
is revised and defanged, and the entertainment industry figures out
that it needs to go after pirates instead of harassing its customers.
Or the courts could be hostile, the CBDTPA could be passed, new
encryption restrictions could surface, and
"trusted computing systems" could come closer to reality.
The first scenario is not out of the question. The copyright
extension and ElcomSoft cases have done a lot to raise awareness of
the excesses of American (and, increasingly, worldwide) intellectual
property law. The costs (and vulnerabilities) of copy protection
systems are increasingly apparent to all. We won the encryption
battle, and we could well win this one too. But the forces behind the
attempted intellectual property takeover will not give up easily. One
way or the other, 2003 will be interesting.
- The 2.6 kernel will be released, but probably not until well
into the second half of the year. Chances are the 2.7 development
series will not open in 2003. Of course, all bets are off if Linus
starts accepting new developments in 2.5, but chances are that will
- There will be a SourceForge crisis in 2003. SourceForge
is operated by a company which is still bleeding cash, and which no
longer has any real interest in free software. VA Software's
investors and board are bound to question the value of the free
SourceForge service. That service may well be cut back - or start
demanding some sort of payment - in the coming year.
- UnitedLinux will not be enough to save all four of its
participants; at least one of them will probably exit the distribution
business by the end of the year. MandrakeSoft, which is in a cash
crunch as of this writing, will pull through with support from its
users and emerge as a viable (if smaller) company.
Those are our guesses for what this year holds for Linux and free
software. These predictions are offered in the hope that they will be
useful, but they come with NO WARRANTY regarding their fitness for any
particular purpose or relation to any sort of reality.
Comments (2 posted)
[This article was contributed by LWN reader
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier]
Red Hat's recently
announced errata policy
has drawn some fire from the Linux community
for being too stingy. The new policy guarantees that releases will be
supported for "at least 12 months from the date of initial release." To
look at it another way, it paves the way for Red Hat to end support for
products only one year after release. Red Hat's 8.0 release, officially
released on September 30 of last year, is slated for retirement on
December 31, 2003. Fourteen months is a fairly short life cycle for an
operating system, particularly since most companies and users won't be
switching to a new release immediately.
An end of life policy isn't new to Linux vendors, though such a short life
span is. SuSE announced
last year that the
company would be retiring releases after two years. Caldera and
Mandrake also end support for their products after a few years, though they
seem to have no posted policy stating a specific shelf life for the products.
Some have noted that Red Hat may be trying to move users to its
"Advanced Server" product. While the latest "consumer" release of Red
Hat is being retired at the end of this year, Advanced Server won't be
put out to pasture until 2005. Naturally, Red Hat charges much more for
the Advanced Server product.
When a company like Microsoft decides to end support for a product, it
puts its customers in a fairly unpleasant situation: Be stranded with an
unsupported platform that will no longer receive bugfixes and support
for new hardware, or buck up the money for upgrades and possibly break
support for older applications and face hardware upgrades. Red Hat's
customers are in a different position, however, since they possess the full
source to their operating system; there's nothing that says that someone
else can't maintain a release
past Red Hat's expiration date.
Companies that specialize in Linux support (e.g. Tummy.com, others)
could provide longer-term support for companies (and
individuals who happen to have the cash) for a fee. For that matter,
there's no reason a savvy admin couldn't continue to patch a system on
their own without official errata from Red Hat. If demand is great
enough, Red Hat users might even form a community effort to release
errata for older releases, though that might be more effort than simply
upgrading to new releases or switching distributions. It will be some
time before we see just how well, or how badly, Red Hat's policy change
goes over with the Linux Community. It's likely that it will draw little
attention until the expiration dates start to approach.
While many Linux users may complain about having to upgrade or scrounge
for patches on their own, there is some justification for Red Hat and
other vendors to stop supporting older releases. The Open Source
development model moves very quickly, making it difficult for a vendor
to continue support for a wide variety of packages that may put out many
releases a year. Not only does the vendor need to provide updates for
each package, they must ensure that the updates don't conflict with or
break other packages that may depend on them. For a company struggling
to be profitable while still giving away its software, it may make a
large difference in the bottom line.
Comments (13 posted)
Unless it is changed before adoption, the proposed W3C
royalty-free patent policy
will allow "field of use" provisions.
Patented technologies which are included in a W3C standard must be licensed
for royalty-free use - but only for implementations of the the standard
itself. Owners of patents can still require license payments for any other
use of the technology.
What this means, of course, is that, if a W3C standard contains patented
technology with "field of use" restrictions, no implementation of that
standard may be distributed under the GPL. The GPL does not allow that
sort of restrictions. Free implementations of such standards can be
distributed under BSD-style licenses, so it remains possible to implement
the standard in free software. But the range of that freedom has been
These terms make an interesting contrast with another form of royalty-free
patent licensing. Companies like Red Hat and FSMLabs have licensed their
patents for use in free software - but only for software licensed under the
GPL. BSD-licensed implementations are not covered by these patent
If these trends continue, the proliferation of software patents is going to
bring about a partial partitioning of the free software ecosystem. The two
types of patent licensing are, essentially, allergic to each other, and can
not be mixed. This is not a new situation - mixing free software with
different licenses can be problematic even without the additional
complication of patent issues. But adding in incompatible patent licensing
creates new and dangerous problems.
Software patents may well turn out to be one of the more potent weapons
against free software in general. Patent infringement lawsuits can be
filed against any user of the allegedly infringing software, not
just its developers or distributors. A couple of high-profile examples of
companies being dragged into court for using a free program would serve to
create a great deal of fear, uncertainty, and doubt among all free software
users - even if the patent suits are eventually tossed out. The free
software will have to step carefully when implementing algorithms covered
by patents - and that may well not be enough.
Comments (8 posted)
The LWN staff has survived the holidays in reasonably good form. Hopefully
the same is true for all of you; we wish you all the best for the new year.
Quite a few LWN subscriptions have expired over the holidays - many people,
it seems, signed up at the beginning for a three-month subscription, and
that has run out. If you are one of those folks, please consider renewing
your subscription so you can have access to LWN's premium content and
features and stay on top of what's happening in the Linux and free software
The final version of the LWN 2002 Linux
Timeline is now available.
Enjoy the first LWN Weekly Edition of 2003, and thanks, as always, for
Comments (7 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: Postfix 2.0.0; new vulnerabilities in bugzilla, CUPS, KDE, ...
- Kernel: Shared page tables; multiple address spaces, goodbye hugetlb system calls.
- Distributions: 2002 retrospective
- Development: Mailman 2.1, MySQL 4.0.7, Sendmail 8.12.7, CUPS 1.1.18, Midgard 1.4.4,
new hsflinmodem, JACK Rack 1.0.1, GNUsound 0.5, XFree86 188.8.131.52,
GTK+ user interface libraries 2.2, Qt Script for Applications 1.0 beta1,
LibGGI 2.0.2/LibGII 0.8.2, TeXmacs 1.0.1, Gnumeric 1.1.14,
CL-SDL 0.2.0, Parrot v0.0.9, Python 2.3a1, GDB 5.3.
- Press: 2003 predictions, TCO comparisons, DVD Copy case, Sklyarov interview,
GNU Bayonne, the New York Linux Scene.
- Announcements: Desktop Linux Summit doubles sponsors, January Linux Gazette,
the Open Source Weekend, OSCon 2003 CFP, Linux Bangalore slides,
real-time Linux papers, FOSDEM Interviews, the Independent Game Developer's
conference, XML 2002 coverage.
- Letters: The Little Mermaid