Predictions, as they say, are hard - especially when they involve the
future. It's easy to get them wrong and look like a total fool. Your
editor, however, has long since gotten over his fear of coming across as a
total idiot in front of large numbers of people; when you have already
tipped your hand, there is no point in holding back any longer. So here's a
few things which, in your editor's view, might just come to pass in 2007.
As always, these predictions come with no warranty whatsoever.
Version 3 of the GPL will be adopted, perhaps after one more draft
round. Your editor has no clue of how the FSF will respond to the
criticisms of their anti-DRM provisions. If that language remains, uptake
of the new license will be somewhat lower; the FSF may try to avoid that
scenario by making "distribution on restrictive hardware without the
associated keys" an optional permission which can be granted by the
Somebody will be sued for distributing proprietary kernel modules.
Threats of lawsuits have been muttered for some time, but the late-2006
discussion on banning those modules made it clear that GPL infringement
suits are the strongest weapon available to those who oppose proprietary
modules. Given the way the frustration level is rising, it is only a
matter of time until somebody uses that weapon.
We will see the end of SCO in 2007. Chances are that the company's
case against IBM will not even survive until the planned trial date in the
(northern hemisphere) fall. Look for fun around March, when dispositive
motions can be heard.
There will be serious talk of patent reform in the U.S. The EFF is
unlikely to succeed in its attempt to get the U.S. Supreme Court to throw
out patents on software altogether; the current chief justice places a
heavy emphasis on deciding no more than the current case requires, and
software patents are not at issue in that case. But the
pain caused by these patents is severe and growing; something will
eventually have to be done. Whether that "something" will help to lift the
clouds of legal uncertainty from free software remains to be seen, however.
Linux will have fewer problems with closed hardware one year from
now. There is already a clear path to support for most wireless network
adapters. On the video front, a palpable determination to address the
problem has come together over the last year. The Nouveau project can be
expected to make significant progress over the next twelve months, and developers
are beginning to talk about a project to support ATI's R500 engine. A
decision by AMD to open up ATI's hardware would be a nice bonus. But,
either way, the need to solve this problem is well understood, and
developers are increasingly interested in attacking it.
Closed hardware problems will not go away, however. The content
industry, with Microsoft's help, is pushing for a new generation of
hardware which is intended to be "trusted" not to give too much control to
its owner. "Trusted content paths" are fundamentally incompatible with
free software. So we will continue to have trouble in carrying out
straightforward tasks - like watching movies - on our free systems until
the industry comes to its senses.
The war on bloat will get serious as people get tired of running out
of memory. The increasing use of Linux on small and embedded systems will
also create pressure for lower resource usage. Tools are emerging which
will help developers track down wasted memory; their employment should lead
to leaner systems for all of us.
The previous item notwithstanding, Java will move into the free software
community as Sun follows through on its promised code releases. Thus
far, the amount of free software written in Java has been relatively
small. Once free Java support is available for all Linux systems, the
number of developers of free Java code can be expected to grow.
Fedora will come into its own as a free, community-oriented
distribution. Fedora's transition from a corporate product into a
community product has been slow at best, and it is far from complete. The
right things are happening, however; the combination of a more open
process, a 100% free software policy, and a high-quality base should lead
to good things.
Debian will get the Etch release out this year. Honest. What could
possibly go wrong? Thereafter, the Debian developers will go back to
arguing about firmware in the kernel.
Free software will move into online gaming as a critical mass of
interested developers comes together. Many of the necessary pieces exist
now as free software, and the possibility of acquiring some cast-off
corporate code still exists. Meanwhile, Second Life has shown the possibilities
inherent in hackable online platforms. These environments are too much fun
- and too much a part of our future - to leave to the proprietary software
The Microsoft/Novell deal will blow over with few consequences.
Most of the angry ink has already been spilled, and it still seems unlikely
that Microsoft will launch a patent attack against Linux. Novell
will have lost credibility in the community, and may yet lose more
developers, but it has not really changed the nature of the patent threat.
The "open source" term will take a beating as various semi-open
companies try to look like free software operations. Some companies have
already needed to be told to take the "open source" label off their code;
others will certainly follow. The need felt by
these companies to attach non-free provisions to their licenses may lead to
the creation of a "shared-source"-like replacement term by the end of the
The first round of OLPC systems will be distributed to millions of
children in the developing world. That much can be predicted by looking at
the project's timeline. Much harder to predict is what will happen
when millions of children learn to use systems which are open,
Linux-powered, and network-connected. This project may well change the
free software community - and the world as a whole.
Desktop Linux will grow as corporate managers realize they already
have more desktop systems deployed than they had thought.
As always, these predictions will be reviewed in December of this year.
Comments (29 posted)
A quick search shows that there are almost 200 trademarked terms in the
U.S. using the term "Python." This name has been reserved for use with
lacrosse sticks, bungee cords, musical instruments, tape libraries, arc
welding torches, radio-controlled toys, wire rope, motorcycle exhaust
systems, perfumes, cryogenic pipes, floor polishers, carbonated beverages,
"providing online adult entertainment by means of a global computer
network," orthodontic adhesive, herbicides, garage door openers, and much
more. There is also a registration for a programming language. The term
"Python," in this context, belongs to the Python Software Foundation (PSF), and
has since early 2004.
In November, the PSF announced
the adoption of a formal policy for the use of the Python trademark. This
policy has version
1.2.2, despite being the first posted policy for the use of this name. The
rules disallow calling any other language "Python," so it's no fair
slipping in a Perl interpreter; they also forbid using the term "in
ways that confuse the community as to whether the Python programming
language is open source and free to use."
One clause regarding how the term "Python" can be used has attracted a
small amount of attention in the Debian community, however. It reads:
Use of the word "Python" when redistributing the Python programming
language as part of a freely distributed application -- Allowed. If
the standard version of the Python programming language is
modified, this should be clearly indicated. For commercial
distributions, contact the PSF for permission.
This rule would appear to take in commercial Linux distributors, all of
whom should, from a strict reading, be getting permission from the
Foundation. Debian, as a
non-commercial distributor, should not be directly affected by this
language, but anybody who redistributes Debian on a commercial basis could
The question which comes up is: what uses of the word "Python" fall under
this policy? Is providing a python command sufficient? How about
in the introductory text printed when python is run interactively?
Does listing Python in an online package database count? Can the release
notes brag about the version of Python shipped? How about running a "now
includes Python 3000" Superbowl advertisement? The final case is covered
by a separate term which forbids the use of "Python" in advertisements
without prior permission. But the real location of the line separating
free use from that which requires permission is not entirely clear.
At this time, there would appear to be little cause for concern; the PSF
has little interest in harassing people who are using or distributing its
code. After inquiring with the PSF, your editor was told that the policy
was created as part of the legal requirement that trademarks be enforced if
the holder wants to keep them. The PSF has not seen any misuses of the
name that it felt the need to crack down on, and it does not feel that
noting the inclusion of Python within a commercial product necessarily
requires permission. Noting that a product contains Python is acceptable
in just about any circumstances.
The PSF wants to promote the use and development of
Python; it appears to be uninterested in legal silliness.
That said, there are a couple of things which should be kept in mind here:
- The Python Software Foundation is a corporation, and corporations can
change their minds quickly. Should the PSF - speaking entirely
hypothetically now - decide to split off "Python Corporation" as a
separate, for-profit entity, the approach to trademark policy and
enforcement could change overnight.
- Trademark law (in the U.S., at least) requires the enforcement of
trademarks. If a trademark holder can be shown to have overlooked
known violations, it can lose its rights to the mark. The law, in
other words, can force trademark holders to get into the
cease-and-desist business, even if they would rather be writing code.
The number of free software projects with trademarks and associated
policies would appear to be growing. The issues surrounding the Firefox
trademark have been well discussed here and elsewhere. Xen has a trademark policy
which is quite strict on whether a distributor can claim to ship Xen; see
the Xen trademark
FAQ for a view of their approach to trademark management. There are
trademark policies for Perl, MySQL, GNOME, and, of
course, Linux. The KDE and
OpenOffice.org trademarks have
been registered, but there does not appear to be a posted policy for their
use. Fortunately, an attempt by Unipress to trademark "emacs" was not
In recent times, there has been some concern over license proliferation,
resulting in a determined effort to reduce the number of free software
licenses in active use. It makes sense; every software license brings its
own set of conditions and interactions to worry about. Every trademark
license is unique, however; each one has its own set of quirks, any of
which can be changed at any time with no public
participation or notification.
The continuation of this trend could lead to an increasing
series of hassles for distributors; the long-term result could be more
software shipped under iceweasel-like names.
It would be nice if free software projects would stop worrying about
trademarks and get back to working on the code. Abuses of free project
names have been few and far between. This outcome seems unlikely, however.
Nobody likes to see their chosen name hijacked, and commercial
organizations can be positively paranoid about the idea. So a more
realistic solution might be the creation of some sort of standardized free
trademark license. A known set of trademark terms, the same for each mark
and drafted with an eye toward keeping the associated software free, could
do much to make life easier for software distributors. It seems like a
better alternative than being neck-deep in iceweasels.
Comments (10 posted)
One month ago, LWN looked at the
Free Ryzom Campaign
, which was trying to raise enough money to buy (and
free) the source to the Ryzom game in bankruptcy court. The Free Software
Foundation got into the game (so to speak) with a $60,000 pledge. On
December 21, however, the bad news
posted: another bidder had come in with a better offer. The campaign was
left with a pile of pledges and nothing to buy.
Whenever a project gets that sort of energy and resources together, it is a
shame to just let it all fade away. So the campaign organizers have been
possibilities for achieving their goal by other means. One of the
immediate outcomes is the creation of the Virtual Citizenship
Assocation, which is essentially the Ryzom campaign with the brand
names removed. The organization is still soliciting pledges on the chance
that the source for an interesting game may come available from somewhere
else. One expects, however, that the number of pledges is unlikely to grow
quickly until prospective donors can see what the organizers would like to
There is a real chance that a game platform could be obtained this way.
The history of free software projects starting with freed corporate code is
long; Mozilla, OpenOffice.org, and InterBase are just some of the more
prominent examples. The online gaming market is tough, with many failed
offerings. Perhaps one of those proprietary failures could yet be turned
into a free software success. Beyond that, the possibility of an open-source
Second Life is still real.
The history of corporate code offers other lessons, though; among them is
the fact that such code can often require a great deal of work. Mozilla
treaded water for some time until it decided to simply toss much of its
Netscape legacy and start over. It would be a shame to put a large pile of
donated money into a code base which, in the end, needs to be thrown out
and rewritten properly. It might be better to just start over from the
beginning and do it right.
Except that starting from the beginning would not be necessary. The NeL
library - the engine at the core of Ryzom - is already free software.
Arkhart is a project to develop
a GPL-licensed engine and game. The Planeshift engine is also
free software - though the associated artwork is
not. The WorldForge project has
been working in this area for a long time. Other interesting projects
exist as well.
There are a couple of conclusions to be drawn from this situation. The
first is that we do have the interest - and the ability - to create game
engines which can implement compelling virtual worlds. The code and the
developers are out there; we don't have to buy that code from a
failing company. The other side of the coin, however, is that code is only
part of the problem. Top-quality online games need top-quality artwork,
sound effects, music, storylines, and more. If our community is going to
create a great online virtual world, we must do a better job of soliciting
and integrating contributions from artists, writers, and others who are not
software developers. Without them, all we have is a pile of code.
So there are a number of challenges to the creation of truly successful,
completely free online worlds. But our community has always been good at
overcoming challenges. This one, too, will fall, and we will, eventually,
have our free online worlds. Your editor's kids think it can't happen too
Comments (7 posted)
Page editor: Jonathan Corbet
Inside this week's LWN.net Weekly Edition
- Security: The PDF plugin vulnerability; New vulnerabilities in cacti, denyhosts, mono, w3m, ...
- Kernel: Device resource management; A nasty file corruption bug - fixed; Asynchronous buffered filesystem I/O.
- Distributions: New special purpose distributions - Firmware Linux and NSLU2-Linux; New releases BLAG-60000beta, Fedora 6 Live CD, Kate OS 3.2, KNOPPIX 5.1, Musix 0.79, Trustix Secure Linux 3.0.5 Beta 3, Japanese Yellow Dog Linux v5.0
- Development: CherryPy reaches the 3.0.0 milestone, The Road to KDE 4, Gfortran status report, 2006 and 2007 in Java,
new versions of Firebird, BusyBox, PyTables, poMMo, Postfix, jack_capture,
GNOME, GARNOME, KJWaves, Battle for Wesnoth, PDFCube, Wine, Synapse EMR,
amSynth, BEAST/BSE, rtsynth, Bruce The Presentation Tool, ANUGA,
Firefox and Thunderbird, eric3.
- Press: Cost analysis of Vista DRM, Don Marti's 2007 predictions, distribution forks
analyzed, Jeremy Allison from Novell, Apple, Google, and Napster media suit,
Shuttleworth on Microsoft, the AP covers the OLPC, Thunderbird 2.0 review,
new Xen, Lessig retires from CC board, the FSF in 2006.
- Announcements: EU Council stream excludes Linux, nVidia driver pledge drive, OLPC's UI,
AsteriskNOW launched, Red Hat 3Q results, commercial vs open-source,
online Samba quiz ICMC cfp, SambaXP cfp, ShmooCon cfp, TOC Publishing cfp,
European Patent Conf, OOoCon still needs a location, GNU Herds association
- Letters: Comment quality.