The year was 2011. The world’s economy was still in the tank, the publishing industry was in full-on meltdown mode, the tablet was finally accepted, smartphones were catching up to PCs in power, Steve Jobs passed away, the Indianapolis Colts were running down the perfectly imperfect season, and Linux had some major ups and downs.

It’s been a strange, strange year that might well go down as one of “those” years in my book of books. It seemed for every step forward there was one or two steps backwards to be taken — no matter what your focus or industry. Naturally I only want to address Linux, this being an open source blog and all.

Low points

I’m fairly certainly most of you will agree, the lowest of the lows was the release of Ubuntu 11.04 and its default desktop Unity. Unity simply didn’t unite. In fact, it did quite the opposite. Long time Ubuntu users were leaving in droves for distributions that would deliver a desktop that was more stable, more familiar. XFCE, KDE, and Enlightenment saw an upswing in usage. Users were refusing to leave Ubuntu 10.10. And Ubuntu forged on. 11.10 was released with an improved version of Unity, but the desktop continued to lose ground. In fact, the long-time stranglehold Ubuntu had on the Distrowatch number one spot was taken over by Linux Mint (more on Mint in a moment).

Related to the Unity fiasco was GNOME 3. It’s not so much that GNOME 3 was as big a failure as Unity (it at least enjoyed more stability), as it was that so many loud voices within the Linux community came out to publicly denounce GNOME 3. The old-school, hard-core users didn’t want change — they wanted to stick with their old ways of vi, LaTeX, CDE (a bit of an exaggeration on my part there), and mounting/unmounting of removable media. Although it was reported that the state of the Linux desktop was a tragic nightmare, those reports were overblown as they neglected many alternative desktops that were still chugging along, unphased by the fiasco that was Unity/GNOME 3.

Outside of the desktop, one of the biggest “wrongs” to plague the Linux operating system was that it still had yet to find its way onto a tablet. Yes, you can virtualize a Linux environment and Android is still (in my opinion) considered to be built on Linux, but with tablet popularity growing exponentially, Linux, an operating system perfect for the tablet market, should have already gained some ground. It hasn’t and (much to my chagrin) probably won’t. Both iOS and Android have pretty much taken over the dominant positions in the tablet market and Linux will ultimately fail to make a splash in the arena. Sure, someone will ultimately get Linux running natively on a tablet, but it’ll never catch on and no hardware manufacturer will adopt.

Last, but certainly not least, I hate to admit that the majority of Linux mailing lists and forums still seem to be stuck in the past. Filled with rude, temperamental, anti-social users who could easily take a moment to help their fellow Linux users and shut down the idea there is no such thing as Linux support, many of them, instead, would rather complain about “top posting” or remind the incoming users of the benefits of LaTeX rather than instructing them on modern tools that new users can actually grasp.

That attitude will continue to rub me the wrong way and get Linux nowhere.

High points

Conversely to the low points, the high points for Linux were quite high. And from my perspective, the highest of the highs was the release of Linux Mint 12. Although it came late in the year, “Lisa” proved that GNOME 3 could, in fact, be made to overcome all of those problems users were complaining about. With the help of GNOME 3 extensions, a complete make-over to the login, and numerous other improvements, Mint managed to not only take over the number one spot in Distrowatch, it also brought a breath of fresh air to the Linux desktop. The naysayers couldn’t continue shutting down GNOME 3, because everything they complained about had been addressed. Linux Mint was a huge success and earned the right to be the number one Linux desktop distribution.

2011 was also the year that saw Mandriva come back to relevance. For many years Mandriva floundered in the background, relegated to the few fanboys and fangirls that refused to jump ship. But along comes the 2011 Power Pack to prove that Mandriva had a few tricks up its sleeve that could (along with Linux Mint) revitalize a waning love affair with desktop Linux.

Bodhi Linux was probably one of the biggest highlights for me, because it helped to get me away from a Ubuntu Desktop I couldn’t work with and back to one of my favorite desktops of all time — Enlightenment. But the highlight here is that a small group of passionate, dedicated developers proved that Linux will always survive. With just five main developers, Bodhi 1.2.1 is already an incredibly stable, production-ready desktop.

Server sales. It was reported that the second quarter of 2011 saw an explosion of Linux server sales. According to numbers released by IDC, server sales for Q2 increased by 47.5% (compared to the same quarter 2010) to reach $ 2.7 billon USD. Compare the percentage of income spent on Linux servers (20.5%) to Windows server (12.4%) and you can easily draw the same conclusion as I — 2011 was a good year for the Linux server. If you’re not convinced, try on these numbers:

Linux server income increased by approximately $870 million dollars while Windows servers sales increased by some $650 million dollars.

Go Linux!

Outside of server sales, I can’t really say it was a great year for Linux. The fiasco that was the Ubuntu desktop really put a vast dull spot on the shine Linux had begun to build for itself. It will take some time to rebuild, but with the help of distributions like Linux Mint, Mandriva, and Bodhi, I’m fairly confident 2012 will be much, much better.

What do you think? What were your low/high points for Linux in 2011?