The year 2011 was, in the grand scheme of things, a rather "meh" year for open source. Nothing horrible happened and nothing magic or wonderful happened. In the end, it all balanced out. There are things that really could have happened to make it a stellar year. But all is not lost. 2012 is a new year and begs for the chance to make it a banner year for open source. How? What can possibly happen to make it open source's year? I can think of at least 10 things.
NOTE: Nothing you read below is based on fact. This is all complete conjecture and part and parcel of my brain being in a constant state of daydreaming. Wishful thinking, as it were.
1: Ubuntu scraps Unity
Let's face it. Ubuntu Unity has failed to impress anyone but the most hardcore fans. If Ubuntu wants to gain back some seriously lost ground, it needs to scrap this desktop and either adopt GNOME 3, modify GNOME 3 (ala Mandriva and Mint), or make a bold statement and go with an alternative desktop as your primary (such as XFCE or Enlightenment). My thought is that it will drop Unity and heavily modify GNOME 3 to try to placate its user base. If it does that, things should work out in its favor. And I hope... not too late.
2: Linux finds its way onto tablets
This MUST happen. If Linux is to gain a single ounce of traction in the tablet market, it must have an offering in 2012 or it'll be time to give up that ghost. The tablet market is going to outshine all other hardware markets in 2012, and Linux really needs this win. What I see happening is a niche provider like System 76 will release an Ubuntu-based tablet that will be a huge success. People will catch on and start following suit. Not that these tablets will come close to putting any significant dent in the Android or iPad margins, but they will be noticed.
3: QuickBooks, Scrivener (and other such tools) get native ports
Scrivener is the de facto standard application for writers. The good news is that the creators of Scrivener are busy at work creating a native port of that fantastic tool to Linux. What needs to follow is this: QuickBooks needs a native client for Linux. Why? Simple: There is already a native QuickBooks server for Linux; it only makes sense for there to be a client. Add to that the flakiness of using QuickBooks on Windows and you have the makings for a huge hit. With a more reliable, secure option available to users, they will buy it.
4: Windows suffers another major viral outbreak
Unfortunately, this is an inevitability. When major outbreaks occur, I'm always shocked that more users don't migrate to Linux or Mac. But the truth is, most users assume this is just standard behavior. It shouldn't be. But the next go around with a major virus is probably going to be a real game changer that will open people's eyes to the alternative.
5: Linux server sales continue to rise
Q2 of 2011 was a stellar year for Linux server sales. In fact, Linux beat out Windows server sales that quarter in growth. I firmly believe 2012 is going to see a further increase in sales on the server side, which will begin (by the end of the year) to trickle down to the desktop side.
6: Linux Mint and Mandriva partner up to create a powerhouse desktop distribution
Both desktops have begun the process of modifying GNOME 3 in ways to better suit the needs of the end user. This will continue into bigger and better places when Linux Mint and Mandriva merge to create a serious powerhouse of a distribution. With the combined forces, this new distribution will take both the Linux landscape and the desktop world by storm.
7: A major marketing firm takes over for a distribution and lands a serious commercial push
I have been decrying the lack of publicity for years now. Linux needs advertising and marketing. I'm not necessarily talking Super Bowl ads; but a television commercial or a major advertisement in a magazine or newspaper would go a long, long way. The people need to know, and this year it's going to happen. But it must be done by a marketing firm interested in some pro bono work, as the Linux community as a whole can't pay for an open source product ad. Surely there is a philanthropic marketing firm out there somewhere.
8: Another serious enterprise-class distribution like Red Hat Linux appears
Red Hat Enterprise Linux has proved the model works. Companies do buy Linux. But as of right now, Red Hat is really the only kid on the playground. SUSE Linux wants to join the fun, but the Novell'name hurts SUSE more than most realize. Novell, as a whole, died years ago; so there needs to be a new player in the game. I believe that player will come, thanks to a merger with Ubuntu and another company or distribution. Ubuntu already has a good server platform that can be leveraged. There is no reason it can't use that to its advantage.
9: GnuCash gets a client/server setup
This will be a real game changer. So many QuickBooks users are already clambering for an alternative to the ever-flaky accounting solution. That solution could easily be GnuCash. GnuCash already has a solid foundation with an incredible application. GnuCash is already capable of handling business accounting... the only thing it needs is a client/server setup and it could easily become king of finances on the desktop.
10: GNOME 3 is finally adopted by the public as a valid replacement for Classic GNOME
The same thing happened in the Windows world twice: With Windows 7 and the Microsoft Office Ribbon interface. People hated the UI at first, but then they realized they didn't have a choice — that Microsoft was moving ahead, full steam, with the changes. After a while, everyone pretty much adopted Windows 7 and were good to go. The same thing will eventually happen with GNOME 3. Developers will make the changes necessary (as they are already doing) and by the end of the year, GNOME 3 will be in full swing as the default desktop for Linux.
A year of change
Yes, it's all speculation; but even the speculation is formed with some kernel of truth. Many of the above topics have been bubbling under the surface for a long time now, even if only as a need. The time has come for some serious change in the Linux landscape. I believe we'll look back on 2012 and say it was the true beginning of something special. Are you with me on this?
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.