Software

2017: A year of highs and lows for Linux and open source

Jack Wallen takes a look into the wayback machine to view some of the highlights open source and Linux enjoyed throughout 2017.

Ah, 2017, it was a good year for Linux—one that continued the solidification of the open source platform on so many levels. From the consumer mobile space to supercomputers, Linux dominated certain sectors in a way no other platform could.

Let's take a look at some of the highlights from the year—both the highs and lows—and hopefully draw a conclusion that 2017 was a banner year for Linux.

SEE: Linux distribution comparison chart (Tech Pro Research)

The de-Unity of Ubuntu

There's no way to start a review of 2017 without discussing Canonical dropping Unity as its desktop for Ubuntu and returning to GNOME. This was huge. Canonical spent far too long attempting to bring convergence to the market. While this was a very noble cause, the Ubuntu desktop became the collateral damage of the effort. Linux users had to suffer release after release, where next to nothing improved on the Ubuntu desktop front. This was a mistake of grand proportions and sent a lot of users scurrying to the likes of Linux Mint or Elementary OS (myself being of the latter crowd).

Thankfully that chapter is closed; Canonical shuttered the doors of Unity 8/Mir and returned to what they did best—the desktop as we know it. In a move that surprised many, Canonical opted to return to the GNOME desktop and scrap Unity altogether. This was the smart move, as GNOME is one of the slickest, most stable desktops on the market. Don't get me wrong, Unity was an outstanding venture with some seriously advanced features that never really received the love they deserved, but returning to the desktop that helped make Ubuntu an almost-household name was exactly what the OS needed.

Speaking of convergence ...

Convergence is dead! Long live convergence!

If you thought the idea would die at the hands of Canonical, you were wrong. Samsung has opted to resuscitate Linux and convergence, with the help of their Galaxy line of smartphones and DeX. If you're unfamiliar with DeX, it's a dock that enables users to plug in a supported Galaxy device and enjoy a desktop experience, powered by their smartphone. In the midst of 2017 passing, Samsung made the announcement they were developing an app called "Linux on Galaxy," which would allow users to boot their favorite distribution (or multiple distributions) of Linux on their Galaxy S8+/Note8 devices, and take advantage of DeX—so a full-blown Linux desktop, powered by a smartphone.

See: Samsung DeX will finally give life to the Linux smartphone (TechRepublic)

A Quantum leap for Firefox

I never thought I'd see the day. While watching "Mr. Robot" one night, I spied with my little eye a commercial for an open source product. That's right. Mozilla ponied up for a prime time television commercial for their newest browser release.

With good reason. Firefox Quantum is the best browser on the market.

I never thought I'd be able to say that again. For the longest time, Firefox was my go-to browser. But then bloat happened and Firefox went the way of Netscape Navigator. I kicked the open source browser to the curb, in favor of the lighter, faster Chrome. Chrome worked incredibly well and quickly became the de facto standard browser for nearly everyone.

And then along comes Quantum. The latest iteration from Mozilla is light years ahead of where it was. Firefox is now fast, light, and stable—more so than any of the competition.

Firefox has finally proved that open source desktop software can easily best the proprietary competition. Hands down, Quantum is unmatched.

The year of containers

You couldn't throw a rock in IT without it smacking down on a container or 20. Although containers have been around for awhile, 2017 saw to it to make them the darling of the tech industry. And no one does containers like open source. Running Docker or Kubernetes on Linux is like smearing peanut butter on chocolate—it not only makes perfect sense, it's something you feel required to do. In fact, according to Portworx, in a survey about this very subject, over 32% of companies were found to be spending over $500,000 yearly on license and usage fees for container technology.

So long Munich, and thanks for all the Linux

It seems Munich couldn't hang with Linux. The on again, off again, on again, off again relationship between the German city and open source has finally come to an end. Munich will be migrating its government computers to Windows 10, after more than a decade of using Linux. The reason for the migration is compatible applications and hardware drivers—the standard-issue war cry for those against migrating to Linux. In other words, a lack of applications and hardware drivers. To those who regularly use Linux, this might come as a bit of a surprise, especially considering that the likes of Ubuntu and Linux Mint has some of the best hardware recognition on the planet. In the end, however, there are proprietary devices that still do not function with Linux. Have you ever tried to use a scanner with the open source platform? If so, 'nuf said.

Microsoft continues the Linux love fest

In 2016, Microsoft became a platinum member of the Linux Foundation. In 2017, the juggernaut continued that "trend" and joined the MariaDB foundation as a platinum member. Microsoft took that support one step further to announce they would offer MariaDB as a managed service on their Azure cloud platform. The love-fest was even more solidified when Microsoft announced the Windows Subsystem for Linux was coming to Windows Server. That's big news for anyone that prefers to work in the bash environment. Along the way, Microsoft also announced it's Azure App Service would be available on Linux.

Let the love flow, Microsoft!

See: Microsoft makes its Azure App Service available on Linux (TechRepublic)

If anything, 2017 should go a long way to solidify Microsoft as a champion for Linux and open source.

Linux is the supreme ruler of supercomputers

This has been a long time coming. As of November 2017, every single one of the world's top 500 supercomputers runs Linux. The last two holdouts were IBM mainframes running AIX. Those two machines dropped off the list of top 500 machines to be replaced by machines running—you guessed it—Linux.

See: Linux totally dominates supercomputers (ZDNet)

Look out 2018!

We've only really scratched the surface, but it's pretty clear Linux and open source had (in the immortal words of Larry David) a pretty, pretty, pretty good year. If I were to prognosticate (which I will soon) on what 2018 will look like for open source, I'd say given how good 2017 was it's going to have one of its best years yet.

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About Jack Wallen

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.

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