Author Charles Stross recently
that times have gotten sufficiently interesting that the writing of
near-future science fiction is currently impossible. Too much is changing,
in too many interesting and unpredictable ways, for anybody to make
projections of the future that don't look ridiculous long before that
future arrives. Your editor can certainly understand that concern. But,
then, your editor's predictions have always
looked ridiculous in
short order. So there's no reason not to continue with business as usual.
Here's a set of wild guesses as to what we might see this year. Woe
unto anybody who takes any of this seriously.
The net is full of guesses about what the currently-unfolding financial
crisis will mean for free software; many of those are wildly optimistic.
Your editor is a bit more guarded: the free software community will
emerge from this mess stronger than ever, but it may well be a difficult
ride. Much of the commercial Linux industry draws a fair amount of its
income from the financial industry, and many players in that industry -
there should still be one or two left - are likely to be looking to cut
their expenses somewhat. So money for little things like critical
infrastructure may be a little short until the bonus pool can be brought
back to a satisfactory level. Other parts of the economy will be suffering
similar pain. All told, economic trouble will make life harder for a number
of free software companies - and the people they employ.
Still, the lower cost of free software, along with its flexibility, can
only serve to make it more appealing to companies which are trying to
develop a successful business strategy for difficult times. The commercial
ecosystem around free software should continue to grow, but it may go
through some interesting changes along the way.
One thing that will help is that open embedded systems will grow in
appeal and become more successful. The iPhone showed what can be done
with an interesting hardware platform; at the same time, it has spawned a
steady industry devoted to opening up the device. Android-based platforms
are quickly showing that it's possible to make an equally (or almost
equally) nice device without locking it down in the same way. Awareness of
the value of open gadgets will grow, and there will be more of them on the
market by the end of 2009. These gadgets may not be as completely open as
many LWN readers would like, but they will be a big step in the right
As that happens, your editor thinks that Android will grow in
popularity, perhaps to the point where it eclipses other Linux-based
handset platforms. Android has no shortage of flaws, but it is a
sufficiently well thought-out and developed system that it should be able to
attract a real development community - especially if Google opens up its
processes sufficiently. And if Google maintains an overly-firm hand on
Android, we may well see forked versions aimed at the hardware devices
which can run them.
The pace of GPL enforcement actions will drop as a result of two
independent developments: more companies will figure out that free software
licensing matters, and developers will decide that they do not want to be
part of a high-profile lawsuit. That said, there will be some significant
actions on this front in 2009. Meanwhile, the FSF's GPL-infringement
lawsuit against Cisco will be settled in a flurry of "win-win" press
GPLv3 migrations will slow, especially among projects that people
have actually heard of.
A formerly friendly company may pull an SCO. The sad fact is that
failing companies have a certain tendency to look toward their "IP
portfolio" as a last-ditch source of revenue. 2009 is likely to see more
than the usual number of failing companies; do not be surprised if one of
them grasps at this particular straw.
Debian Lenny will be released. Now that the ritual firmware flame
war and general resolution obligations have been satisfied, it looks like
even Debian would be hard put to not get a release out this year. Debian
will also make a serious attempt to avoid a repeat of the recent general resolution
mess. There will be changes to how resolutions find their way to a
vote, and the scripture-like authority of the "foundation documents" may be
We still won't know about Fedora's "infrastructure issues". But
they'll promise to fill us in as soon as they possibly can. In the mean
time, Fedora will crank out two more solid releases, one of which will
eventually show up (somewhat transformed) as the next RHEL release.
openSUSE will make it easier for outside developers to maintain
packages in an attempt to bolster its relevance in the development
The 2.6.33 kernel will be released. In other words, the kernel
development cycle will continue at its fast pace, and the numbering scheme
will not be changed.
The realtime patch set will be mostly merged by the end of the
year. It really has to happen this time. What could possibly go wrong?
After many years of effort, 3D graphics will be a solved problem on
Linux systems. We will no longer be second to other systems with regard to
functionality or performance - at least, if you buy your video hardware
from cooperative companies. Some of the code may still be working its way
through the distribution system, but the work will be done.
It will be a make-or-break year for Perl. If the Perl developers
cannot either bring new life to Perl 5 or turn Perl 6 into
something real, this language will, by the end of the year, have moved well
down the road to "legacy" status.
By the end of the year, KDE 4 will have stabilized, and most users
will have forgotten what all of the flames were about. Meanwhile, the
first pieces of GNOME 3 may be out, but they are likely to be
received without great enthusiasm.
The distributed version control system debates will continue in full
force through the year. A number of major projects will make the jump
to a DVCS, and most of them will go to git. But Mercurial and Bzr (at
least) will remain strong contenders.
As a result of declining contributions from Sun and frustration felt by
outside developers, OpenOffice.org will be forked. The new project
is likely to have some initial troubles - OpenOffice.org is a big
program - but it will eventually become the focus of a much more dynamic,
This article would not be complete without a prediction that free
software will be stronger than ever at the end of 2009. Some
predictions are easy to make; that has been the trend for many years, after
all. Still, it is going to be interesting to see what we will be able to
accomplish over the next twelve months. As always, it is going to be fun.
Finally, it will be a hard year for Linux-related media; we have
already seen a foreshadowing of the situation with Groklaw's shift
into maintenance mode and the recent demises of
LinuxWorld.com and Linux.com. It is a hard time to be in the media
business in general, and the free software realm offers challenges of its
own even in the best of times. That said, LWN appears to be holding steady
so far, thanks to thousands of readers who feel that this enterprise is
worth supporting. So your editor is able to confidently predict that we'll
still be here for the traditional mocking of these predictions in
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