Linux

2009: A Linux year in review

Vincent Danen looks back over the year 2009 at developments in the world of Linux and Open Source. What do you think are the big stories?

Let's start with "The Desktop"

Was 2009 the year of the Linux desktop? It's a rather silly question, honestly, and a Google search will show that for the last number of years, there have been constant predictions that that year was the year of the Linux desktop. And, guaranteed, in January there will be more predictions that 2010 will be "the year of the Linux desktop!"

But why this focus on a particular point in time? Recent distributions already prove that Linux is more than capable for the desktop, and this has been true for years. 2009 brought about GNOME 2.28 and KDE 4.3, both forward-progressing desktop environments. Are they perfect? Of course not. But let me pose this question: Is Windows on the desktop perfect?

Linux on the desktop is entirely subjective: For some, the year of their Linux desktop was 2009, or last year, or the year before that. For others, Linux won't be good enough until 2010, or 2011, or even further.

The "cloud"

Instead, look at where Linux distributions have grown this year. This year, there was a distinct focus on cloud computing and virtualization. KVM, the kernel-based virtual machine, took amazing strides in usability. New projects are springing up and old projects are becoming more viable against proprietary competitors for cloud computing, making using the cloud, or creating your own cloud, even easier. Open source technologies used with cloud providers like Amazon EC2 have become stronger.

Sun and Oracle

Other things of interest this year have been the proposed acquisition of Sun by Oracle. This has things in a bit of an uproar as Sun currently has Solaris, OpenSolaris, ZFS, MySQL, Java, and other technologies. How does this stack up with what Oracle is currently providing, what will get dumped, and what will be neglected? The future of MySQL is highly debated.

What about ZFS? Currently, it is licensed under Sun's CDDL license, which is incompatible with the GPL, making ZFS support in Linux sketchy. Is it possible that, if Oracle's acquisition goes through, ZFS might be re-licensed under something more compatible with the GPL? Only time will tell.

Going forward

Despite the global economic conditions of 2009, or perhaps because of them, open source is flourishing. No one can dispute this fact. Focusing on Linux on the desktop as the pinnacle of open source, as if it were the goal to strive for, discounts and diminishes all of the other excellent work taking place.

The increased use of open source, the expansion and greater awareness/usability of cloud computing, and the increased focus of virtualization in conjunction with commodity-priced hardware make the future for Linux and open source bright. Does that mean the Holy Grail of Linux on the desktop is close at hand? Perhaps. Again, I argue that desktop usage of Linux shouldn't be an end, or even a primary, focus; the increased proliferation of open source in all computing sectors, not just the desktop, is good for everyone -- regardless of whether your focus is the desktop, high-availability computing, or anything else.

Having watched and used Linux for over a decade now, I realize just how far we have come since the days of KDE 1.0 on Red Hat Linux 5, the first distribution that I really sunk my teeth into and used full-time.

2009 was an interesting year. 2010 is shaping up to be even more so. Here are the things I'll be watching:

  • Whether or not Oracle's acquisition of Sun goes through and what it will bring
  • The release of GNOME 3.0
  • The future of MySQL
  • New Linux distributions with new advances... all of this is exciting.

Delivered each Tuesday, TechRepublic's free Linux and Open Source newsletter provides tips, articles, and other resources to help you hone your Linux skills. Automatically sign up today!

About

Vincent Danen works on the Red Hat Security Response Team and lives in Canada. He has been writing about and developing on Linux for over 10 years and is a veteran Mac user.

14 comments
Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

That's probably the best "year of the desktop" explenation I've read. It's simply not a hard set date like a marketing release or some such. For many, it's a perfectly viable desktop platform, for others that may come later or not at all. But of course it's more fun to say "see, this wasn't the year of the Linux desktop after all" as if that somehow benefits users and computing in general. Or as if it's the only possible goal for Linux based distributions.

bmnfan
bmnfan

You've got that point wrong. It is not the CDDL that is incompatible with the GNU GPL. It's the GNU GPL v2 that is incompatible to some other open source licenses on eye-level. There is nothing in the CDDL that prevents combination with other code or licenses. The reciprocal clause of the GNU GPL v2 is the sole stumbling block here. Were Linux licensed under the GPLv3 / GNU GPL VERSION THREE, there wouldn't be a problem. That's because the GPLv3 is an EULA and furthermore more like other open source licenses, less conflicting to them. Btw, the GPL does not prevent *USAGE* of the ZFS code with Linux. It just prevents distribution of combined code. As a user, if I had enough spare time, I could legally hack ZFS into *my* Linux kernel. The GPL does not forbid that. It forbids redistribution of such combined code (and of course distribution of compiled combined code.) That's its sole purpose.

pogson
pogson

Everyone is taking it seriously now. Novell, IBM and RedHat are cranking out virtual GNU/Linux desktops by the thousands for business customers. OEMs are producing all manner of machines running GNU/Linux for consumers. ARM became ready to kick butt. M$ took a big hit and laid off folks because it cost them $1 billion to fight GNU/Linux on the netbooks and they still lost. A couple of years ago you could meet folks who had never heard of GNU/Linux. Now that is rare. Folks may still not know what it is but they have heard/seen/used it. Netbooks have made a difference. 30% of production is with GNU/Linux in spite of sweet deals by M$. With "7" M$ has given up the low end. They cannot afford more down quarters so they have cranked up the prices of machines and licences to keep the bottom line up. 2009 was the best year ever for GNU/Linux on the desktop and I think it was the tipping point. GNU/Linux is swarming all over netbooks, thin clients/virtual whatevers, clouds, etc. GNU/Linux became mainstream everywhere in 2009. Cheap reliable service it has been giving for a decade on servers is now on the desktop. The only thing GNU/Linux has to look forward to that is better on the desktop is increased share. There are now no bottlenecks. M$ has delayed things but only a little. OEMs who do not supply the market but try to make an up-sold PC market will lose share to those who do supply what people want. Market growth is in cheap mobile PCs. 2009 was a year of recession for M$ but GNU/Linux had solid growth. That was remarkable and will continue. Now 20% of PCs are netbooks and thin clients. The world changed in 2009. GNU/Linux made it happen.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I know the ideal place is within the kernel code tree but like other non-free bits, couldn't distros bundle in ZFS support since it can't be bundled in at the kernel.org level?

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Maybe orange? Pick your flavor, it's still Kool-Aid. Name one major OEM offering Linux systems on their consumer web sites. Name one retailer stocking them. Dell has them on their web site, but it takes Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes to find them. I don't know what circles you run in, but my non-IT friends think Linux is Charlie Brown's friend. "2009 was a year of recession for M$ but GNU/Linux had solid growth." Define 'solid growth' in numeric terms, please. Links to supporting evidence, please." "Now 20% of PCs are netbooks and thin clients." Again, links to supporting evidence, please. I'm with Vince; should 'Linux on the desktop' be the focus of the open source community?

jck
jck

[i]Name one major OEM offering Linux systems on their consumer web sites. Name one retailer stocking them. Dell has them on their web site, but it takes Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes to find them.[/i] http://blogs.computerworld.com/with_hp_in_all_oems_now_ship_desktop_linux According to ComputerWorld at the end of last year, all major OEMs were already shipping at least one desktop with Linux. That took me about 5 seconds to find in Google. :) I know I found this: http://broadcast.oreilly.com/2009/12/linux-regaining-netbook-market.html Approximately 1/3 of netbooks are shipped with Linux. That doesn't include how many have Linux loaded post-delivery. As for what they hold of the market, I found this: http://www.newsfactor.com/story.xhtml?story_id=11100DPXR5NO Say that with 33M units shipping, it will be 20% of the market. Article was as of July, so that percent maybe correct as of now.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I don't think it changes your points but just to avoid pages of text from someone more emotionally attached to osX than I.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I had my choice of four different platforms when buying my last HP. Windows, VMware, Suse, Empty. I selected empty since HP also provides Debian support as a matter of company policy (handy having drivers for HP's own hardware bits). ok, ok.. I was shopping the server selections. I'd be shopping closer to Lenovo if it wasn't.

jck
jck

In the effort of constantly looking to cut budget and save where you can, what better way than to get your PCs discount, have your IT people load boot images of Linux, and run with it? I don't think it's the end-all, but I think it makes more business sense and more technical sense to have servers that allow your vendor independence to choose modules, protocols, services, etc. Plus, I want to see Ballmer out of a job. Not only is he kooky, but he's the one that envisioned the concept that became .NET. He ruined my ADO and MSFlexGrid!!! :^0

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Linux is huge on servers. It's big on embedded systems. But despite what some think, there's more to the open source movement than Linux, or even apps for Linux. I'm tired of reading articles and posts that assume Linux is the be-all for open source, and that Linux on workplace and consumer client systems is the end-all. Not having a large number of Linux desktops doesn't make open source a failure, and having them doesn't make it a success. As for Americans, few buy their operating systems separate from their hardware. The cost of the OS is semi-invisible since they don't break it out separate from the iron. If you're ordering on-line, you may see an additional cost if you upgrade, but never the cost of the bundled OS itself.

jck
jck

I had pity on him. I felt charitable today. :^0 Also, look into Linux's share of the server market. They infiltrated the web-server market hugely in the past 6 years due to highly reduced cost for the server (and not having to license here...license there) and were much more efficient. I just know that Microsoft has lost 3-4 percent of their desktop PC share in the last couple of years. Linux has over 1% of the desktop market, plus Mac OS X (which is just Apple's Linux) has over 5 percent. For having happened in the past few years, that's a significant drop, as well as the fact that Windows has lost the majority in the server market, and has never been a competitor in high-speed computing systems. If Microsoft doesn't begin to offer more value for that $120-300 per desktop OS cost, they will eventually lose out to Linux. Americans like convenience and using what they know, but when it comes down to either getting the newest Windows for $150, or getting something that looks like it that will run Windows apps for $0...Americans will start to move toward $0.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

My point is that just because they all 'offer' Linux doesn't mean it's not going to be a struggle to buy a system with it pre-loaded. Hardly worth popping the cork on a champagne bottle although, as I noted, it may be worth mixing up a fresh pitcher of lemon-lime.

Deadly Ernest
Deadly Ernest

do NOT offer it as being available on all models, only on selected models. If you do NOT first select one of those models, about five percent of the total available, they do not mention Linux. Mind you, the web sites (last time I looked) did NOT have a page where you could go to that listed all the Linux available models at once. The system is such you select a model, and if you're lucky enough to select a Linux capable one, then Linux is listed as an available OS. They make it hard in order to keep Billy boy happy.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I went to HP's web site and checked a netbook, laptop, and two models of desktop. The only operating system options offered were flavors of Windows. I know where to find Linux systems on Dell, but that's only because I spend some time digging for them. Vendors may offer them, but they're apparently not bragging about it. So with Linux on 33% of netbooks, and netbooks 20% of the new sales market, Linux netbooks account for 6% of new sales. Not 6% of the total number of client systems, just new sales. Hardly the 'swarming' pogson describes. As to the amount of time to Google, I'm not going to do someone else's research for them.

Editor's Picks