the January 3, 2008
Holidays are an exercise in tradition. One of the more charming holiday
traditions around LWN is to look at the predictions made at the beginning
of the year and measure them against reality. There is, after all, great
value in things which make us laugh. This year's predictions were featured
edition. As might be expected, some of them were better than others.
What was predicted
Your editor's first prediction was that support for Flash playback would
mature in 2008. In some sense, that may be true. Your editor's desktop
system, running the Rawhide build of Gnash, can now faithfully display a
wide variety of Flash ads, web site "intros," and various other thoroughly
useless bits of media. A Flash-based "interactive tour" offered by LWN's
bank worked nicely. But support for many other Flash features, including
simple playback from online sites, still is not especially solid, and other
interactive Flash applications do not work at all. This problem, it seems,
is still not solved.
The prediction of the KDE 4.0 release required little in the way of
foresight, as did the prediction that users would be unhappy. That stage
was well set before the beginning of the year. A continued focus on power
management was also an easy thing to foresee; there will be great value in
making our systems more power-efficient into the indefinite future.
Flush from those two obvious successes, your editor went off and stated
that the bulk of the realtime tree would be merged into the mainline kernel
by the end of the year. Oh well. Your editor should know by now that
expecting deterministic merge times for realtime patches is a sure path to
disappointment; latencies in this area are always higher than one would
like. In this case, the realtime developers got stuck in a
high-priority interrupt (taking over the x86 architecture) with the result
that realtime work got preempted and suffered from severe starvation.
As predicted, debate over Microsoft's OOXML format continued, and Microsoft
succeeded in obtaining standard status for that format anyway. Things have
since gotten quieter, though, perhaps because people see it as a done deal
and no longer worth fighting about.
The GPL was the subject of two predictions this year. One was that more
projects, perhaps even glibc, would move to GPLv3. There is a steady
stream of analyst verbiage to the effect that GPLv3 is quickly growing in
but the truth of the matter is that the number of conversions in projects
which really matter appears to be low. Projects with significant numbers
of developers and users continue to approach GPLv3 with caution.
The other prediction was that GPL enforcement actions would continue, and
perhaps grow. The recent FSF lawsuit against Cisco makes it clear that the
GPL enforcers are serious about what they are doing. Your editor cannot
help but wonder, though, whether the increasingly litigious actions by the
Software Freedom Law Center might not eventually lead to a serious backlash
within the community. We are about freedom, not punitive damages.
Enforcement of the GPL is necessary if we expect our licenses to be taken
seriously, but overly zealous - or greedy - litigation could encourage
those who say that
use of free software exposes companies to an unacceptable level of risk.
Your editor included a rosy prediction about the One Laptop Per Child
project and where it would go over the course of the year. In fact, OLPC
has continued to work toward its goal of putting laptops into the hands of
children around the world. But your editor completely missed the way
internal divisions would rise to the surface and distract OLPC developers
from what they are trying to do. OLPC seems to have moved beyond the worst
of that, and much-needed development on the Sugar software continues. But
the project seems far from its original goals, and the increasing
popularity of ultra-mobile systems, while vindicating the original vision
behind the OLPC hardware, threatens to render the XO hardware obsolete and
Ever the optimist, your editor said that the days of hardware hassles would
be over. We are closer. Finding an off-the-shelf system - server,
desktop, laptop, or palmtop - which is fully supported by Linux is now
easily done. OK, maybe the modem is not supported, but few people will be
inconvenienced by that omission anymore. That said, there will probably
never be a shortage of uncooperative hardware manufacturers; if we value
our free operating system, we must continue to
support manufacturers who work with our community, and avoid those which do
The prediction that the intensity of competition between distributors would
increase was reasonably well satisfied. One need only look at Novell's
"migrate from Red Hat" offering or the continued attacks on Ubuntu, not all
of which have to do with its community participation.
Finally, the three "community" predictions at the end of last January's
article were all satisfied reasonably well. None of them were especially
daring, so that should not be surprising.
What was not predicted
One commenter in January asked about the lack of predictions about SCO. In
December, it is hard to say that SCO deserved a place there. The company
still exists in some form, but it no longer has much to warrant the
attention of the Linux community. Your editor predicts that there will be
no SCO predictions in 2009 either.
So what else did your editor miss? Perhaps at the top of the list is the
evolution of the Linux platform as it is used in mobile devices, and in
cellular telephones in particular. Google's (unpredicted by your editor)
Android platform has made a splash, regardless of what one might think of
its openness. The first Android phone has been reasonably well received,
and it would appear that more are on the way. The merger of the LiPS and
LIMO consortia shows that some consolidation is happening in this area.
The announced plans to open Symbian were also an interesting development.
In the near future, the handset business seems likely to be firmly
dominated by free software - though, alas, the bulk of those handsets will
not be designed to pass the benefits of that freedom on to their owners.
Your editor has often predicted software patent troubles, though he did not
do so in 2008. What was completely unforeseen, though, was Red Hat's resolution
with Firestar Software. The company got itself out of a patent bind, and,
in the process, removed the patent as a threat to the wider development and
user community too. We may see this sort of solution repeated for patent
problems in the future - if we are lucky.
Finally, unpredicted - and unpredictable - was the series of
"infrastructure issues" which shut down much of the Fedora project for a
good month. That episode showed us a number of things: how much some of us
depend on our distributors' infrastructure, how vulnerable we can be to
intrusions, and how the interests of the companies behind some
distributions can interfere with the availability of useful information.
Months after the fact, we still have no idea what happened with the Fedora
project; it is not unreasonable to wonder if we will ever know.
Despite problems like that, and other small distractions (the total
meltdown of the global financial system, for example), Linux has only grown
stronger over the last year. Our community has grown, our software has
gotten better, and the economy around free software has gotten stronger.
Your editor predicted that, too, but not even he is so arrogant as to claim
credit for having foreseen something nearly as obvious as the sunrise.
to post comments)