Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Look Back at 2008

The big news this year is the beginning of the KDE 4 series. On January 11, 2008 KDE 4.0 was released. KDE 4.1 was released on July 29, 2008.

The first commit regarding KDE 4 happened on May 8 2005. There was a BOF session at Akademy 2004. After 3 years and 7 months the work seems only to have started. This is what I love about free software. No one in their right mind would even try something like this, but it was done. And I humbly submit, quite successfully.

I wrote last year at this time that "probably this time next year we will have a version that we can recommend to our grandmothers". My perfect skills at prognosticating have again been validated. The coming 4.2 release will be ready for grandmothers everywhere.

So we have Plasma working well, Phonon simple and working. Akonadi will wait for 4.2 along with many other neat things. Much of the infrastructure is in place, some things not quite there yet, but coming. The user experience is getting better. Not too bad for a broken development system.

Any change as large as that will engender feelings. Some wish that things had gone quicker, some don't like some decisions and directions. Flame wars are a hallowed tradition of free software, and we haven't disappointed. The community came up with Code of Conduct to keep a lid on the more damaging manifestations that we saw earlier on. But as always, code triumphs, those who did the work decided and produced, the rest spectated.

How can the large behemoths of the software industry harness the energy and ideas of free software? And the real question is how to harness it without creating or feeding a viable free desktop that could potentially put it out of business? Now we know. WebKit has made the news a number of times this year. Google released it's own browser, Chrome. It is based on WebKit. Microsoft made noises about using WebKit as browser engine. Nokia continues to use it, Qt includes it as part of their library.

A couple of thoughts. It is more evidence of the industry's fixation, unhealthy fixation with monoculture. Also, it is a marked event where the software behemoths of the industry, Apple, Microsoft, Google, become consumers of, in Doc Searls terms, building materials, instead of producers. Is Microsoft is such dire shape? And along the way every effort has been made to deny the benefits of the collaboration to the free desktop.

What interests me in the browser world is the single minded perseverance of the khtml folks, who don't want to become unpaid labor for these behemoths. And hv3, another browser with another html engine. Who in their right mind would write another html engine? The same type of folks that would write an OS, a desktop, and all the interesting and difficult pieces that make up the free software stack. You see, without this single minded determination all we would be are very low cost venture capital firms coming up with neat ideas and implementation, but no one to pay.

Nokia bought Trolltech. How this all works out remains to be seen. Trolltech and KDE had a symbiotic relationship, but how does Nokia and KDE?

Probably the slapdown of not only the year, but of the decade came about at Linux Plumbers Conference. Greg Kroah-Hartman gave the keynote address, and lambasted Canonical for it's lack of contribution upstream to the plumbing of what makes up the linux desktop. Here is the talk, here are more of Greg's comments, and for a sample of the response from the community, a post at lwn.net. Read through the comments, among the hurt feelings of Ubuntu users, there are comments from individuals who confirm what was said. So a question for us users; if a distribution can be the most successful without giving back, do we have a responsibility? If hardware vendors ignore the basic structure of free software, do we support them?

And lastly, the abundant and inexorable flow of code changes seems to have worn out our faithful chronicler, Danny Allen. What does the future hold? Will he regain his power and determination and madness?


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