As your editor reviewed his 2010 predictions, the thought that often came
to mind was "obvious" or "boring." Making obvious predictions may be a way
to boost your editor's sense of omniscience (said omniscience,
unfortunately, only being acknowledged by your editor's dog), but it takes
away some of the fun. So, this time around, an attempt has been made to go
just a little further afield. With luck, it will make for some fun in
December when it is time to come back and laugh at how bad these guesses
The LibreOffice fork will take off, taking most of the
wind out of OpenOffice's sails by the end of the year. StarOffice may
continue as a commercial product, but its user base will be small.
LibreOffice will improve considerably in this time but, your editor
confidently predicts, it will still be too big and still really annoying to
The Mageia and IllumOS forks will fare less well. The Mageia folks
have seemingly been mostly concerned with lengthy discussions about the
layout of the package repositories so far; no release is in sight. More to
the point, though, it seems that the rumors of Mandriva's demise may have
been a little exaggerated. IllumOS looks like it may lack a critical mass
of developers, and some of the most committed people appear to not get
along very well. It's not at all clear that anything derived from Solaris
will have relevance in the free software world for long.
MeeGo will be a surprisingly big success. Android is increasingly
looking like the Windows of the handset world - a universal operating
environment which turns the hardware into a boring, low-margin commodity
product. Manufacturers will be keen to see a competitor which allows them
to differentiate themselves and to limit Google's control.
Along those same lines, it will be a make-or-break year for WebOS,
which has yet to make a lot of waves under HP's management. Should the
system be released on (relatively) open handsets, it may yet surprise us.
Google will take its place as a major kernel contributor. Google is
already a massive contributor of code to the community, of course, even if
its "throw it over the wall" style does not suit everybody. Over the
course of the last year, though, your editor has noticed an increase in
Google engineers showing up at conferences and discussing the company's
needs. Google folk are increasingly being allowed (and encouraged) to come
out and play, and everybody will benefit from that.
ChromeOS will struggle this year. The need for another "thin
terminal" system is not entirely clear, especially once ChromeOS users
discover that they can get a real Linux-based operating system on the
same hardware. That "real" system may be a netbook-oriented distribution,
or it may be some form of Android. Either way, it only takes one must-have
application to drive users toward a distribution which is oriented toward
the installation of local applications.
We will see huge legal and technical battles as governments and
corporations try to restrict what can be done on the net. Futile attempts
to shut down sites like Wikileaks or to stop those who would demonstrate
the weakness of the cellular network can only lead to an increase in
repressive actions worldwide. Efforts by network providers to increase
revenues will have similar effects. It will be a tumultuous year.
Targeted attacks will increase; Stuxnet, said by some to have
destroyed 1000 centrifuges in Iran, is only the beginning. Security will
be a bigger deal, and Linux will benefit from an increased emphasis on
security. That said, alas, it would not be surprising to see a successful
Stuxnet-like attack against Linux-based systems this year.
A free driver for an embedded graphics chipset will be released by a
previously recalcitrant vendor. Embedded graphics is currently one of the
most problematic areas for free support, but the commercial pressures will
prove to be strong enough to motivate at least one vendor to open up. It
is a pattern we have seen many times in the past.
At the distribution level, the tension between providing stability and
providing current software will increase. Fedora has already had
significant amounts of internal strife around this issue; at the other end,
users of stable "enterprise" distributions often find themselves needing
something newer. In 2010, we saw Oracle basing an enterprise distribution
on a newer kernel; in 2011, we'll see more attempts to provide the best of
openSUSE will change in response to the above-mentioned pressures
and others; by the end of the year we may see ultra-stable and leading-edge
variants of openSUSE alongside the current "just right" distribution. What
will happen to Novell and SUSE under Attachmate is hard to predict, but
openSUSE will continue to thrive regardless.
Business models based on control of the code will fade in prominence
over the course of the year. It will become clear that "open core"
programs, while being free software, do not generate the sort of community
that truly brings code to life. Projects requiring copyright assignment
will increasingly be seen in the same light - especially those projects
which are owned by for-profit corporations. Neither open core nor
copyright assignment will go away in 2011, but developers - who already
favor more open and diversely-owned projects - will shy away from them.
Need we conclude by saying that Linux and free software will finish the
year stronger than ever? That was clear in late 1997 when LWN was in the
planning stages, and it hasn't changed since. This year will certainly
have its ups and downs, but our community will find itself in great shape
at the other end.
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