Friday, December 28, 2007

It's been an eventful year. Change seems to happen either painfully slowly or painfully fast. I think we are in one of those fast periods that occur from time to time. Here is my list of interesting things that happened this year. Order is based on the important and empirical measure of what comes to mind first.

Eeepc. This is one of those industry changing bits that come along from time to time. Small, cheap and running Linux. I am thoroughly impressed with it. It puts a polished and impressive implementation of Linux in people's hands. We will look back at this little thing as a turning point. 350,000 sold so far

Finally some release candidates of KDE 4. The long process has yielded fruit. Now it's time to release it. There are mixed feelings about this. It really isn't ready for prime time usage. There are major holes in the offerings. But time to get it out, lift the freeze and go on to the next version. Probably this time next year we will have a version that we can recommend to our grandmothers. There is a reason why major reworkings don't happen very often. Somewhat like world wars. A new generation has to come along. KDE4 will live a long and fruitful life.

Last year ended with some inkling regarding the dismantling of the SCO case. Novell eclipsed IBM as a formidable legal opponent as they systematically tore apart SCO, forcing them into receivership. SCO is now delisted from the stock exchange, the last few dollars being apportioned by the bankrupcy court. Gone and good riddance.

AMD ATI Intel Dell Asus. I wonder what the people in Redmond are thinking when they hear these names. Oh yeah. They offer hardware that either runs linux, or are supporting open drivers for their hardware. Intel has made great strides and a great reputation with free software users by making available free drivers for their video and wireless hardware. ATI being purchased by AMD have changed course in the right direction, offering hardware specifications to developers. Dell is selling laptops and desktop products running linux. Asus has the Eeepc, but also a motherboard that has linux in rom with some basic function. Hardware support has been ok for linux, but with the movement that became a stampede this last year, we can look forward to even better hardware support in the future.

The GPLv3 was released. Much controversy has resulted, but more than likely in the end most everything GPL will end up GPL3. Why? Samba. KDE is updating it's licensing for that reason, and many project will do the same.

Apple completed it's purchase of CUPS. Now all free software distributions and projects will be in the thrall of Steve Jobs. Who will be changed the most? Apple's touch in free software has ranged from benign to pernicious, but the projects that they have affected were of marginal interest to most of the free software world. Now the question is whether CUPS will be run like KHTML/Safari/Webkit to the detriment of free software projects, or will the free software community recognize the hazard and act appropriately. Some may disagree with the characterization of khtml/webkit as a detriment, but consider this; could the free desktop afford to have a major portion of their offerings (printing) be essentially frozen for 2-3 years? No. So watch this space.

OLPC. This is special hardware. Linux based, designed for children, with the lofty goal of putting as many as possible into the hands of children in the developing world. It seems that it is everything that it was designed to be. Funny what happens when you start designing hardware from free software. We will remember this one for a long time. And we will see some of the technology developed for this project in other places.

Some things don't happen in ways that you put a date to. Things still don't work as you would like, but they are different things. Wireless networking seems almost easy. Things just work. Most of the time, but more often than not. Now if a year from now we can say the same thing about video drivers...

Speaking of networks, cellular networks are as hidebound as the Microsoft franchise. The IPhone came out with much fanfare, but it ends up being nothing more than another fancy phone to access the same old tightly controlled networks. Google introduced a platform, and are backing it up with a bid for wireless bandwidth. Linux based cell phones are getting common, but again, they are more of the same; closed, tied to a tightly controlled network. This system is ripe for an overthrow, the titans are in the ring, and we have the privilege of a ringside seat. Enjoy the show.

So that is my list. I notice looking it over that hardware is the focus. Don't get me wrong. Software across the board is improving. Except for KDE4, most software improvements are incremental. The basics are there, and what we are seeing is maturation. The hardware breakthroughs are new ideas made possible by free software. These new hardware platforms will spawn software ideas, which by nature take more time to mature. I can't see all these creative free software developers content to stay in maintenance mode. Give it two years. We will see some dramatic movements in software.

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