Maybe it's the post-holiday letdown, but looking back on 2010 I'm not sure the open source community has that much to be grateful for this year. Not only have we missed another year for the Linux desktop, but there's been plenty to gripe about in 2010.
Last week, at least for those of us in the United States, was time to give thanks. And while I have plenty to give thanks about personally, I can't say the same thing when it comes to FOSS developments. Looking back on 2010, it's been kind of a crappy year.
Number five: Novell sold to Attachmate
After months of speculation, we finally found out who the buyer would be for Novell: Attachmate.
I was cheering for VMware to pick up Novell, or any player that would invest heavily in SUSE and the openSUSE Project. The good news is, it looks like Attachmate is going to pursue business as usual with SUSE and openSUSE. The bad news? More than 800 patents are going to the consortium put together by Microsoft for a whopping $450 million.
Number four: The Bilski letdown
The U.S. Supreme Court had an opportunity to smack down software and business method patents, but didn't take it. The court made the right ruling on the narrow issue of the Bilski case, but avoided the opportunity to issue a blanket ruling that would rid us of software patents altogether.
Many experts had cautioned that the blanket ruling was unlikely, and they turned out to be (sadly) right. Too bad for FOSS, because it means years and years of ridiculous legal wrangling. Good year for patent lawyers, though...
Number three: Mandriva slips farther
Once upon a time, Mandriva was one of the "major" Linux distributions. Actually, Mandriva never was — but its precursor Mandrake was. For its time, it was one of the easiest to use Linux distributions and it enjoyed a fairly large following. Financial troubles plagued the company, though, and it's been through bankruptcy, layoffs, and a long struggle to survive.
Technically the company is still surviving, but most of the folks working for Mandriva were laid off in September and there's a lot of uncertainty about the distribution's future. The hopes that the distribution would return to its former glory have been pretty much dashed.
Number two: iPad launches with no serious FOSS competitors
Apple announced the iPad in late January and shipped the beast in April. If there was any doubt that there'd be strong demand for the Apple tablet, it's been put to rest now.
Ten months later, we're still waiting for a decent Linux-based tablet that competes with the iPad. True, you can find Android tablets today. However, the offerings on the market are either underpowered or overpriced. The Galaxy Tab looked like a possible contender, until they slapped a $600 price tag on it.
The Moblin / Maemo reboot, MeeGo, was announced earlier this year — but the Intel/Nokia alliance hasn't managed to get far enough to ship any MeeGo-related devices this year. Looks like the earliest we'll see MeeGo devices is the first quarter of 2011 — long after the holiday season and just before Apple announces the iPad 2.0. Whatever the MeeGo folks have in store, it'll need to be really, really good to compete with a beefed-up iPad that already has serious traction.
Lackluster devices at price points that are higher than entry level iPads aren't going to make a dent in the iPad's market share. 2010 would have been a great year for Linux to make a dent in the consumer computing tablet market, but we've missed it.
Number one: RIP Sun
Above all, 2010 will be remembered for being the year that Oracle began its reign of terror over former Sun communities and projects. Well, reign of terror might be overstating it a bit — more like reign of bureaucracy and maximal profits at the expense of openness and developer relations. That doesn't exactly roll off the tongue though.
So far, Oracle has succeeded in killing the OpenSolaris project, inspiring a fork of the OpenOffice.org community, launching an attack on Google's Android over Java patents, and alienating the Apache Project from the Java Community Process. Not a bad year's work if the goal is to undermine open source. It's disappointing that Oracle has chosen to go this route — rather than taking the opportunity to fix problems Sun had with its community projects, Oracle has just chosen to shun the communities altogether. Even though Sun had its flaws, on the whole the company was much more friendly to FOSS.
This isn't to say that 2010 has been all bad. Just that, objectively speaking, the open source community (including FOSS projects and businesses) have had better years. And 2011 may well be one of them. With the LibreOffice fork truly off and running, there's finally a chance that the premier open source office suite will stop being a mere clone of an old version of Microsoft Office and start innovating in its own right.
Though Mandriva is unlikely to recover, something better might just rise from the ashes. Right after the last round of layoffs, former Mandriva employees and community members founded Mageia, a fork of Mandriva backed by a not-for-profit. Earlier this year, rumors were floating around that Mandriva was for sale. I said at the time it might be better if the company didn't find a buyer. Though it's provided some rough time for Mandriva's employees, it may well turn out to be better for the community and distribution. With the Mageia fork, the community has a lot more control over the distribution's destiny — and gets rid of the baggage of the for-profit company. Here's hoping 2011 turns out to be a very good year for Mageia.
While I'm deeply worried about Microsoft's intentions for the Novell patent portfolio, the deal isn't closed yet. There's still time for a white knight to bid on the patents and use them for good (which is to say, use them only defensively). Otherwise I don't see much good coming of Microsoft getting these patents in 2011.
And while the FOSS tablet selections are paltry now, I think that 2011 might finally see real competition from Android, MeeGo, and possibly Ubuntu. Though there's a lot of catching up to do, Android has managed to give the iPhone serious competition. Maybe Android 3.0 will be the magic number for Linux-based tablets.
Am I off base? Did I miss something bad in 2010, or was this a good year for FOSS and I'm just seeing the glass half full?
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a freelance writer and editor with more than 10 years covering IT. Formerly the openSUSE Community Manager for Novell, Brockmeier is a longtime free and open source software advocate. He has written for many publications, including Linux Magazine, Sys Admin, Linux Pro Magazine, IBM developerWorks, Linux.com, CIO.com, Linux Weekly News, ZDNet, and many others.