The open source movement began 30 years ago, in 1983, when Richard Stallman published the GNU Manifesto. Since then, there have been thousands of open source titles to storm the forts of the end user desktop, the small to medium businesses, and even the enterprise and corporate culture. However, that doesn't mean every software title, internal decision, or movement within the open source world is a success. Like every global community, open source has had its share of disappointments — and the year 2013 wasn't an exception.
Here are 10 of the most disappointing developments for this past year. Some of them were game changers, others were simply thorns in the side of the open source community, and a few may even have spurned a change for the positive within the community. Let's take a look at the cruft that dared to mar the sheen of an otherwise outstanding year.
1. Rift between Canonical and open source
This one is a tough one for the likes of me. Why? Because I'm a big fan of Ubuntu, and I'm a long-time user. The Unity interface and I also get along swimmingly. But it seems like much of the open source community (especially the hard core users) abhor what Mark Shuttleworth and Canonical have done. The biggest cause of this rift is the implementation of Mir over Wayland to serve as the Ubuntu X Server. What has made this even more embittered is the fact that Mir and xMir have yet to see the light of day on an Ubuntu release. My take on this is that Canonical should do everything it can to smooth over this major wrinkle — even if it means swallowing their pride more than they'd like.
2. Hand of Thief
It was only a matter of time before someone created a trojan virus for the Linux operating system. Although not yet out in the wild, this nasty piece of software (that grabs authentication information, via a form grabber, from your bank login) is for sale on various Russian virus development communities. The trojan is said to work on over 15 different distributions, including Ubuntu, Fedora, and Debian — plus eight different environments (including GNOME and KDE). The good news? The only way it can actually get onto your machine is by way of social engineering. The bad news? It's only a matter of time...
3. Oracle's continued love/hate relationship
Someone needs to stop Oracle from dipping its anti-Midas touch fingers into the open source pools. Find one member of the open source community that has a kind word for Oracle, and I'll eat my words — but I'm certain that will not happen. Oracle's continued love/hate relationship with the open source community has caused the MySQL database — a powerhouse of a database server, in use for years — to be usurped (in many instances) by MariaDB. There are so many web-based tools (Wordpress, Drupal, Xoops, Joomla, etc.) that depend upon MySQL. Imagine if every one of them migrated to MariaDB!
4. The loss of Groklaw
Grocklaw was an amazing and noble force in the world of law. Pamela Jones took down this time-honored guardian of justice simply because she felt her sources couldn't safely communicate with her via email — thanks to the NSA. An inability to trust her own government forced her hand, and she closed up shop. This was a very sad moment, not only because the one organization intent on protecting open source had to close its doors, but because this perfectly illustrated how the bond of trust between a government and the community it serves is no longer in existence. Pamela Jones and Groklaw are sorely missed.
5. GNOME 3
I really want to like GNOME 3. I do. I love Unity, so it only seems natural that I would enjoy a desktop that has many similarities. However, that's not the case. With Unity, you get the best of nearly every world. With GNOME 3, you only get a small portion of that which makes Unity so efficient. If you don't believe me, do this — set the Unity Launcher up to auto hide. Now, use Unity for a while and see how badly you miss it. This isn't about clinging to old-school ways (see my next entry), this is about efficiency and ease of use. GNOME 3 could make that major leap forward if they would just implement a launcher to remove a step in getting to your most-used apps.
6. Tight grip on the old school
A while ago, I wrote about how the death of Windows XP shouldn't be a battle cry for Linux. The whole of Linux needs to stop clinging to old school ways and embrace the future. With modern interfaces that blow away the old school look and feel, Linux has done everything it can to leap into the world of modern computing — yet, so much of the user-base clings to desktop interfaces that look like they'd be far more comfortable back in the 90s. Although this seems shallow, the vast majority of consumers want shiny and new, not old school. Yes, the old school works and works well — and it's a noble and worthy cause to keep all of those old XP machines from filling up landfill sites — but that tight grip on everything Linux was gets in the way of what Linux is and can be.
7. Continued lack of documentation for projects
When I install a new piece of software, it never ceases to amaze me that it's sorely lacking in documentation. The developers of open source software have to understand that end users need help, and the first place they need to turn is the project documentation. And, keeping with my "old school" rant, please do not limit your documentation to "man pages." Instead, create a professional looking piece of documentation (in either PDF or HTML format) and include it with your software packaging. I can't believe it's 2013, and we're still on this argument. I get it, you're very busy. If that's the case, invite users to create your documentation! This is especially true when you've crafted a rather complicated piece of software.
8. Canonical's Edge
It was a shame that it failed, but this project was a sort of double-edged sword. First and foremost, Canonical set themselves up to fail by trying to reach the unheard of goal of $32 million. That's over a million dollars a day! They didn't even reach half of their goal, but they did set a record for the most money raised for such a project. I find the whole Edge project a disappointment because Canonical should have been investing the time and resources in getting the Ubuntu Phone and Tablet out to market in 2013. By failing this... well, see number 10.
9. Firefox OS (or lack thereof)
It looked promising, and it still looks like it could be promising, but the Firefox OS is up against some pretty stiff competition. By not producing a viable release in 2013, the Mozilla foundation really shot themselves in the foot. Even users with hands-on experience with the Firefox OS have discovered that it's a so-so platform for low-end devices. I don't believe that is what Mozilla was going for. What Mozilla should have done was put their power behind the development of the Ubuntu Phone.
10. Still no Linux-based tablet
Last year, I predicted that 2013 would be the year of the Linux tablet. Man, I was wrong about that! The fact that Linux is still not an option as a mobile platform has me now thinking this will never happen. Yes, Canonical is getting close to releasing the Ubuntu Phone, but the tablet seems to be fading further and further into the land of vaporware. And the longer the wait, the less likely it will happen. The mobile community is so deeply ingrained with iOS and Android that every day/month/year that goes by without another platform is a few steps backward for the possibility of even minor acceptance of Linux as a mobile platform. I would love to have a Ubuntu/Unity powered tablet. It makes perfect sense. But like most others, I do not want to pay for something that will quickly fade away (remember the holy grail of bombs, the Agenda VR PDA?).
These 10 reasons stick hard and fast to my memory as being the lowest points in the year for Linux and open source. However, there were also plenty of things that open source got right in 2013. In my next post, I'll share some of my predictions for open source in 2014. Share your thoughts about open source ups and downs of 2013 in the discussion thread below.
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 getjackd.net.