It's that time of year again: a new year has begun, so your editor must duly
come up with a set of predictions that, by the end of the year, will look
either embarrassing or painfully obvious — or both. It is a doomed
then, we all need some comic relief sometimes. So, without further ado,
here's a few thoughts on what can be expected this year.
In 2012, the shape of a solution for the UEFI secure boot problem came into
view. In 2013, the full messiness of the secure boot situation will
come to the fore. There are already reports of some secure-boot-enabled
systems refusing to work right with the Linux "shim" solution; others will
certainly come out. We are, after all, at the mercy of BIOS developers who
only really care that Windows boots properly. We are also at the mercy of
Microsoft, which could decide to take a more hostile stance at anytime;
there have already been snags in getting the Linux Foundation's bootloader
UEFI secure boot bears watching, and we owe thanks to the developers who
have been laboring to make Linux work in that environment. But the problem
of locked-down systems is much larger — and much older — than UEFI secure
boot, and many of the systems in question already run Linux.
Maintaining access to "our" hardware will continue to be a problem
this year, just like it has been in the past. "Runs Linux" will continue
to mean something different than "the owner can run their own software on
it," and UEFI secure boot does not really change the situation all that
much, especially for non-x86 systems.
Maintaining access to our software will also be a problem; the usual
hassles with software patents will continue, as will attempts to impose
draconian surveillance laws, take over the management of the Internet, and
so on. Such is life in the 21st century. One could hope that the patent
issue, at least, would eventually get to the point where legislators feel
the need to improve the situation even slightly; recent reports
that a patent troll is shaking down companies for the novel act of using a
scanner might suggest that we are getting closer. But the legal system
excels at tolerating (and abetting) absurdity; don't expect any significant
fixes in 2013.
The 3.12 kernel release will happen on November 20, 2013, or, at
worse, by the beginning of December. The kernel development process has
become a well-tuned machine with a highly predictable cycle; the longest
cycle in 2012 (3.3) was only twelve days longer than the shortest (3.5).
In the absence of significant externally imposed stress, it is hard to see
anything changing that in 2013.
On the other hand, even your editor would not dream of trying to predict
which features will be added in the 3.12 development cycle.
The community will continue to become less tolerant of unpleasant
behavior from even its most prominent members. The history of free
software resembles that of many frontier environments; at the outset there
is a small set of explorers who work mostly below the radar. As the
frontier is settled — free software becoming successful and often
commercially driven — the small and young community begins to lose its
"wild west" feel. In our rather larger and older community, the standards
for behavior are becoming more stringent. At this point, almost nobody is
seen as being
so indispensable that we have to put up with them regardless of their
So, in 2013, we may well see more episodes where community members call out
others for what they say or do and suggest that others refuse to associate
with them. To an extent, that may lead to a more friendly and inclusive
community environment. But a consensus on what constitutes acceptable
behavior does not always exist. So we may also see energy going into
personal fights that might be better directed toward more positive
In a similar vein, recent resignations of GNU maintainers have made it
clear that there is some disagreement within the organization on how
decisions should be made. It may be time for a change of management in
the Free Software Foundation and the GNU Project in 2013. Richard
Stallman will certainly keep his place as the philosophical leader of both
organizations, but it may become increasingly clear that his limited
energies need not be absorbed by administrative matters. If these projects
are to survive his eventual departure (nobody lasts forever), they would do
well to better establish their processes and identities separate from their
"Vertical integration" will be heard often in 2013. There is no
shortage of developers and companies asserting that the "distribution of a
collection of disparate chunks of software" model is holding Linux back.
Instead, they want to create a system following an overall design from top
to bottom. The market performance of platforms like Android suggests that
success may be found this way; now we have projects like GNOME OS,
Firefox OS, and
Ubuntu following similar paths. This kind of integration may well lead to
a slicker result, but it also risks fragmenting the Linux world in a way
that the traditional distributions did not.
This push toward vertical integration has generated a fair amount of
conflict in our community; that will continue into 2013. Perhaps
unsurprisingly, the strongest criticisms are reserved for those who are
trying hardest to do this integration work as a community project rather
than a company-controlled commercial product. As the Android developers
have discovered, it can be a lot easier to just design a top-to-bottom
system behind closed doors and release the result later. If we wish to
minimize the fragmentation risk, we might want to engage more fully — and
more constructively — with those who are doing their integration work in
Some distribution will ship a release based on Wayland this year.
It will be a painful experience for everybody involved. Wayland as a
replacement for the venerable X Window System is certainly the future, but
the future can sometimes take rather longer to arrive than one would
Several new Linux-based platforms will ship on hardware in the
coming year. We should see devices based on Firefox OS in some parts of the
world. The Mer-based "Sailfish OS" may well be available in 2013.
Samsung will likely ship Tizen-based handsets, the KDE-based "Vivaldi"
tablet (or something descended from it) may actually ship, Ubuntu may show up on
some mobile devices, and something totally unpredictable will probably
materialize as well. There will be a wealth of interesting Linux-based choices,
though they cannot all be expected to do well in the market.
Finally, LWN will celebrate its 15th anniversary on
January 22. As we were thinking about what LWN might be in 1997, we
could never have imagined that we would still be at it all these years
later. Some people never learn, evidently. But, having come this far, we
certainly don't plan to stop now. So, as we wish all of you a great 2013,
we would also like to thank you for fifteen years of support, and all the
years yet to come. We could not possibly ask for a better audience.
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