Your editor was strongly tempted to skip out on the task of writing the
2012 year-end retrospective article. After all, the process of going
through January's predictions and seeing how wrong they were is somewhat
painful and embarrassing. Even worse, according to reliable sources, the
just after this article is to be published, so it
hardly seems worth the effort. But a quick consideration of how your
editor's investment portfolio has performed under the guidance of similarly
reliable sources suggests that covering all the bases might be prudent;
it seems that some other peoples'
predictions are even worse than those found here.
So, with a heavy heart, the process of reviewing last January's predictions began. And, in
fact, the news wasn't all bad. The mobile patent wars did, indeed, get
worse, to the point that it has gotten difficult to market certain devices
in certain parts of the world. The fight for a free Internet continues,
and SOPA was turned back as predicted. Red Hat did indeed have a good
year. A number of the other, relatively obvious predictions also came
through reasonably well. There is value, it seems, in not going too far
out on a limb.
Another prediction read that we would see more focused competition between
distributors, with each seeking to differentiate more from the others. To
an extent that has certainly happened; witness all the work that has gone
into making Ubuntu different from the rest. Other times, though,
differences have not been seen as a selling point; Oracle's attempt to woo
CentOS users is a case in point. So this prediction was, at best,
only partially right. In the end, we are still far from having an
understanding of what makes a perfect Linux distribution, even when judged
through the narrow lens of commercial success.
At the beginning of the year, it appeared that the Linux Mint project had
taken on too many projects; given that it had several versions of its
distribution to support, along with two desktop forks, your editor
reasoned that a
"reckoning with reality" was in the works. At the end of the year, one
might conclude that progress has slowed in some areas, especially with the
MATE desktop. But, if a "reckoning with reality" has occurred, it must be
concluded that reality does not drive a particularly hard bargain. The
Linux Mint project appears to be vital and healthy.
Similarly, one might well conclude that the LibreOffice project is
broader-based and stronger than Apache OpenOffice, but the former has not
eclipsed the latter as predicted. The Apache project has managed to get
its organizational issues worked out and graduate from the Apache
incubator; clearly, it has more staying power than many of us
might have thought.
Perhaps the worst, most wishful-thinking-tinged prediction, though, was the
one that "the GNOME 3 wars will be long forgotten by the end of the year."
One need only have a look at the comment stream that appears on any
GNOME-related news to see that the wounds are still open and fresh.
Someday the community will accept GNOME as it is, but that did not come to
pass in 2012. Learning from experience, your editor is unlikely to predict
a calming of the waters around GNOME 3 (or systemd) in 2013.
So it appears that this year's predictions were, as usual, a mixed bag.
A true evaluation of a set of predictions is not complete, though, without
looking at what was not predicted. As is often the case, your
editor missed a few things that, in retrospect, should have been on the
For example, the regime change in the GNU libc
project was well underway when the 2012 predictions were written. A
more attentive eye would have called attention to the increasingly
consensus-oriented way in which that project was being run. Making this
project more contributor-friendly without a fork was a major achievement
for everybody involved; one can only hope that this type of change will be
repeated in other projects where it is necessary.
Mandriva's decision to hand control of its
distribution to the community also makes sense in retrospect. Letting go
of a project and hoping for community help is, after all, often the
response of a company with
intractable financial problems, especially if the company is somewhat
community-oriented to begin with. It has been clear for a while that
Mandriva SA has not been able to pull together the resources to develop its
distribution properly; hoping that the community can do better is an
obvious response to that situation.
Two items that would have been easy to predict in general — but difficult
in the specifics — were the leap-second bug
backdooring of Piwik.
It is well understood that infrequently tested code will develop bugs over
time; the leap second code had not been invoked in the real world since
2008. One could argue that somebody should have checked the code
for cobwebs as the 2012 leap second approached, but nobody foresaw the
Meanwhile, it has been a while since the addition of backdoors to
software distributions seemed to be a regular occurrence. But free
software projects, especially those producing net-facing software like
Piwik, will remain an attractive target for those who would like easy ways
into otherwise well-secured systems. We will see this kind of thing
Finally, sometimes the most difficult-to-predict events can do the most to
strengthen one's faith in humanity. An interesting trial in Oracle's
software patent suit against Google was easy to foresee. But who would
have imagined that the judge would learn Java and implement some of the
claimed techniques on his own? We are far from fixing the patent system in
the US (or anywhere else, for that matter), but there are signs that
influential people are starting to figure out that there is a problem.
Of course, some things are just too routine to predict. Once upon a time,
a community that could release six major kernels and an uncountable number
of major releases of higher-level software in one year would have been seen as
a hopeless fantasy. Now such things go almost unnoticed. Our community is
strong, and free software continues relentlessly toward world domination.
As a whole, it has been another good year.
We at LWN would like to thank our readers who have supported us through yet
another year; it is worth noting that LWN will celebrate its 15th
anniversary in January. We never predicted that we would be doing this for so
long; it has been a good ride and we are far from done. Thanks to all of
you who make it possible for us to continue to write from the heart of the
Linux development community. On a personal note, your editor would like to
especially thank all of you who offered your support through an
exceptionally difficult year; you made a difference and it is much
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