Welcome to 2012. This is the first LWN Weekly Edition of the year, and
that can only mean one thing: it is time for your editor to go out on a
limb and make a number of predictions for the coming year that, by the end
of the year, will look thoroughly clueless and misguided. Even your editor
can foresee, though, that it is going to be an interesting and highly
On the political front, it is a fairly safe bet that the mobile patent
wars will get worse. The participants in this battle appear to be
tooling up for an extensive and protracted fight, and there seems to be a
steady supply of new companies (British Telecom, for example) piling on in
the hope of gaining a piece of the pie for themselves. Things may reach a
point where it becomes impossible to market handsets or tablets in some
parts of the world. One could hope that a paralyzed mobile market would
suggest to lawmakers that the patent system is broken, and that those
lawmakers would respond by reforming said system. Alas, a more likely
outcome (though not in 2012) is the formation of a patent pool under strong
"encouragement" by governments that ends the fights and establishes the
positions of a small number of large players at the expense of new
entrants. How free software will fare in such a world is far from clear.
The fight for a free Internet will also continue in full force in
2012. Your editor predicts that the current round of net-censorship bills
in the US ("SOPA" and its variants) will be defeated. But the forces
behind such laws never quit and eventually something distasteful will
likely make it through the legislative process.
Laws like SOPA and governmental attempts to control the net in general seem
to be causing concern beyond the small group of people who habitually worry
about such things. As people wake up to threats to their freedom, they
will see that free software is on the front line in the fight
against censorship and repression. Hopefully that will result in a better
awareness of the value of freedom. But it carries a risk that free
software could find itself associated with piracy, crackers, and
criminals. We could have an interesting public relations problem to deal
On the distributions front, it seems evident that Red Hat will have
another great year. Various articles on the net are suggesting that
2012 will be its first $1 billion year, and that the company is
looking to hire 1,000 more people. Red Hat has been helped by the growth
of Linux in general, by its dominant position in the market, and, arguably,
by the difficulties experienced by distributions like CentOS. It has
become reasonably clear that, if one really needs the committed support
that comes with RHEL, one really needs to just pay for RHEL. That said,
the RHEL-rebuild distributions will certainly not be going away in the
coming year; neither will the other commercial distributors.
But we will see more focused competition between distributors, with
more attention paid to the addition of unique features to differentiate
There was a long period where most Linux distributions were about the
same; the biggest differences were to be found in areas like package
management, and they were easy to adjust to. Now we see distributions like
Ubuntu focusing on their own desktop experience. Oracle seems to be
trying to differentiate with more current kernels and an early move to
technologies like Btrfs. Projects like GNOME are increasingly showing a
desire to become distributions in their own right.
Android and WebOS show the extent to which an
ostensibly "Linux" system can differ from its peers.
In a sense, the long-feared fragmentation of the
Linux system is happening. It is good in that we have a diverse set of
projects exploring ways to make a better operating system. But that
diversity also threatens to scatter our efforts to the point that nothing
ever becomes truly good enough to find widespread success.
Along those lines, Linux Mint will have a reckoning with reality in
2012. This distribution has gained a lot of attention with its approach to
desktop design. But it remains a minor distribution, and, at some point,
it can only become clear that the resources to maintain multiple
distributions (Linux Mint 12, Mint Debian, Mint 11 LXDE, etc.),
the MATE GNOME2 fork and the "Cinnamon" GNOME 3 fork simply are not
there. Users will also eventually begin to wonder about things like
security updates. Your editor fully expects Linux Mint to be a strong and
popular project at the end of the year, but it will need to focus its
On a related topic, the GNOME3 wars will be long forgotten by the
end of the year. Users will have either made their peace with GNOME3 or
they will have moved on to something else. The growing availability of
GNOME Shell extensions should help considerably. The various attempts to
fork the GNOME environment or maintain GNOME2 will mostly fade away.
The fight for the attention of mobile device manufacturers will,
instead, continue through
2012. Android is well established, of course, and it is hard to see that
situation changing much. But there should be room for another free
platform. Quite a few projects - GNOME, KDE, Tizen, WebOS, Boot to Gecko,
etc. - would be delighted to occupy that space and be shipped on real
products. They cannot all succeed, though. It would be a shame if they
were to all fail and leave that space to Windows (which will make a big
push on Nokia's handsets) in 2012.
Speaking of Android, mainline kernels will be able to run Android's user
space by the end of the year - more or less. That is not the same as
saying that all of the Android kernel code will make it into the mainline;
some of it may be replaced by code with equivalent functionality. But a
lot of hardware vendors are increasingly concerned with Android kernels,
not mainline kernels, so the interest in closing the gap between the two
will only grow.
The gap between Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice will also grow.
Over the year it will become increasingly clear that LibreOffice has
captured the initiative and the developer energy in this space.
LibreOffice will continue to improve while Apache OpenOffice struggles with
the replacement of GPL-licensed code, adapting to "the Apache Way," and
trying to produce a release based on a year-old beta. There are some good
people working on Apache OpenOffice, but they are swimming against the
The kernel's "ARM mess" will be a memory by the end of the year as
the effort to consolidate code and clean up subarchitecture implementations
continues. The ARM tree was a victim of its own success; vendors actually
listened to the pleas to work upstream and contributed vast amounts of
code. Now that the problem is being addressed, the "victim" part will go
away, leaving only the success; ARM will take its place as one of the
primary Linux architectures, even if it does not become the primary
architecture in 2012.
The security mess will not go away, unfortunately. Our widespread
code repositories and distribution sites present an attractive target to
anybody wishing to compromise large numbers of machines. Targeted attacks
against these sites can only increase, and some of them will be
successful. Our community as a whole is going to have to learn to take
security much more seriously. That is starting to happen in some projects,
but not in others. With luck, we will not wake up one morning to learn
that we have distributed trojaned code to vast numbers of users - but there
is no guarantee that we will be so lucky.
On a happier note, a longstanding request from LWN users will be satisfied
in 2012: the site will finally use the UTF-8 encoding and will not be
limited to the Latin-1 character set. So, soon, it may be possible to find
text like "أي شخص يعتقد التوقعات في هذا الموقع هو أحمق" or "ನಿಮ್ಮ ಸಂಪಾದಕ ಒಂದು
ಕಾಗದದ ಚೀಲ ಹೊರಗೆ ದಾರಿಯಲ್ಲಿ ಪ್ರೋಗ್ರಾಂ ಸಾಧ್ಯವಾಗಲಿಲ್ಲ" or "明けましておめでとうご
ざいます" embedded directly within an
LWN article without the need for obnoxious HTML escapes. Your editor
predicts that change will come sometime quite soon.
Finally, your editor predicts that the world will not end in 2012. The
Mayans, he claims, were worse at this prediction game than he is - and those
who would draw conclusions from the Mayan calendar are even worse yet.
Despite all the coming challenges, the free software world will not end
either; instead, we will finish the year with more strength and momentum
than we had at the beginning. It will be great fun to watch.
to post comments)