9 of the biggest open source stories in 2019

Open source may not have dominated the world in 2019, but it certainly had some major highlights.

OPEN SOURCE CONCEPT

Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

The year is 2019. Although cries of "world domination" still echo in the hallowed halls of Linux land, everyone knows this great event will have to wait for another year, but that doesn't mean all those who are invested in open source need to hang their heads in shame. Failure was never an option, and it wasn't an issue--not in the year of subtle takeover.

If I have to give 2019 a title for open source, it is just that--subtle takeover. Why? Because subtle things happened, many of which will have reverberations for years to come. 

Let's take a look at the some of the moments that defined the year for Linux and open source.

SEE: Top five open source Linux server distributions (TechRepublic Premium)

1. Kubernetes, Kubernetes, Kubernetes

So Kubernetes wasn't exactly subtle in 2019; in fact, if anything was loud and clear, it was Kubernetes. This open source orchestrator has risen to the top of the container heap. Enterprise businesses have come to depend upon Kubernetes to manage and orchestrate the clusters used for containers, but it wasn't Kubernetes alone that gave it such a rise in 2019.

What we saw happen was an increase in the use of other tools to help bring an unprecedented level of automation to Kubernetes. With the help of tools like Helm, Flagger, and Terraform, Kubenetes can now be almost completely automated. That's huge for container developers and the businesses that depend upon them.

SEE: What is Kubernetes? (free PDF) (TechRepublic)  

2. The fall of Docker

Unlike Kubernetes, Docker didn't do so well; however, I should clarify. I'm talking about Docker the company, not docker the container technology. The docker container ecosystem is doing quite well. Without docker containers, Kubernetes might not be the master of its domain, but without Docker the company, Kubernetes would continue on. Docker the company cannot seem to find its footing of late, and 2019 offered little to no comfort. In fact, Docker was once worth over $1 billion. Now, it's trying to raise cash to stay afloat. Remember, Docker is the company behind the newfound rise in popularity of containers. It's a shame it cannot seem to keep this ship moving forward. Fingers crossed that 2020 will bring a much-needed lifeline to Docker.

3. System76 and coreboot

Your computer BIOS is the firmware that performs hardware initialization during the booting process of your computer. Up until 2019, nearly every single BIOS on the planet was proprietary, but in 2019, System76 changed that with coreboot. Coreboot is an open source BIOS replacement that can be found on two of the System76 laptops: The Galago Pro and Darter Pro

Coreboot initially started out as LinuxBIOS in 1999; it was written by Ronald G. Minnich, Eric Biederman, Li-Ta (Ollie) Lo, and Stefan Reinauer. Why is 2019 important to this open source technology? Because it was the first year a company began to openly push coreboot on purchasable devices. Although many kudos should go to those original developers, the ovation belongs to System76 for bringing this technology to the masses.

4. The Linux phone

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! The early adopter PinePhones have been released. For the small fee of $149, you can have a Linux phone in your hand. Don't get too excited, though--these devices are powered by low- to mid-range hardware and are riddled with issues. The fact is--despite the abject failure that was the Ubuntu Phone--the Linux phone has been given new life.

Although the Librem 5 has also begun shipping, reports of that device are far from encouraging. For example, calls can be made, but audio and cameras don't work, and there is no power management. In other words, Purism is shipping a device that cannot actually be called a phone.

The PinePhone is in a similar boat. Hardware is being shipped, but not all functionality is available. The big difference between the PinePhone and the Ubuntu Phone is that Pine64 makes it clear that this first batch of phones is mostly for developers who want to have the hardware in-hand so they can bring this device to the masses. The problem is, it has a long way to go before it's ready for prime time, and given the track history of the Linux phone, it may never happen; however, I would be remiss if I didn't say that Pine64 is going about this the right way. They've drummed up hype in the Linux community; they haven't fallen victim to the ol' overdelivery promise; and they are working with a number of distributions to make this happen. I have faith that Pine64 will be the company to actually bring the Linux phone to life. Considering the competition the Linux phone stands against, it will be a long, hard road to success.

Even though these Linux phones are shipping as (essentially) non-functioning devices, 2019 proved that the open source phone isn't dead. Here's hoping we'll see the first fully functional Linux phone in 2020.

SEE: Your open source gift giving guide for 2019 (TechRepublic)

5. CentOS 8 and CentOS Stream

From the office of, "Hey, ol' pal, it's been awhile!" comes the release of CentOS 8. Why is the release of this distribution important? Consider this: CentOS 7 was initially released in 2014--that's five years ago. Much has changed since then, and with the eighth release, there are plenty of new features to please administrators, such as Cockpit installed by default, TCP networking stack version 4.16, a switch to the DNF package manager, much-improved KVM support, and more. 

Something else exciting happened within the CentOS landscape in 2019: The release of CentOS Stream. This new version of CentOS is a rolling release distribution, which means your CentOS-based servers are always up-to-date. This is exciting, especially for admins who prefer that their data center server operating systems live somewhere between upstream and downstream development. CentOS Stream will eventually reflect the in-progress development towards the next minor release of Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

6. Debian 10

Debian, the mother of all distributions, turned 10. Debian is the distribution that many other distributions are based upon. It has the well-deserved reputation as being one of the most solid operating systems on the planet because of its slow release cycle. Not quite as slow a release as CentOS, Debian 9 was made available in 2017. Although that might look as if Debian exists in a constant state of catchup, this is no different than it ever has been. Its slow, methodical approach to releases gives it the stability its derivatives require. Debian simply doesn't break. Ever. And when Debian releases something new, it's something of note.

SEE: The open source decade, fueled by cloud and GitHub (TechRepublic)

7. Migrate Android to the mainline Linux kernel

Google announced in 2019 its plans to migrate Android to the mainline Linux kernel, and although this probably won't happen before the end of the year, it is big news. The process of upgrading the Android kernel requires three stages and is--at best--convoluted.

  1. Google uses the Long Term Support (LTS) version of the kernel and adds its Android-specific bits.
  2. Google sends the modified kernel to the company (such as Qualcomm) that creates the system on a chip (SoC) that runs the devices.
  3. Once the SoC maker adds its code, the kernel is shipped to the device makers (such as Samsung) where they add code so the devices work. 

These steps take time, and in the end, you have a kernel that works only on specific devices and won't get updated because it would have to go through the same process again. Google wants kernels to be updated along with other software. This could go a long, long, long way to making the Android upgrade process efficient.

SEE: 10 Android highlights from 2019 (TechRepublic)

8. Linux Kernel 5.4

Big things happened in the Linux kernel this year. With 5.4 rolling out, two features in particular have Linux fans doing their best happy dance. These features are the security-minded kernel lockdown and exFAT support. The kernel lockdown strengthens Linux security by restricting access to specific kernel features that could allow arbitrary code execution via code supplied by userland processes; this means even the root account cannot modify the kernel code. With the exFAT support, Linux can transfer files larger than 4 GB. Although it was possible to add exFAT support via the installation of additional libraries--with kernel 5.4, this is now built in.

SEE: What is fileless malware and how to you protect against it? (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

9. Microsoft Edge browser

Microsoft is finally backing up its promise that it does, in fact, love Linux. In 2019, the company announced it was releasing its Microsoft Edge browser to Linux. This software is based on another application (Chromium) that is already available to Linux, but this version of the browser was developed for Windows. Does this mean Linux will stop suffering under the weight of poorly designed websites that require Windows to render or run? One can only hope. 

But that's not all--Microsoft also announced and released Teams for Linux, which is complete and runs exactly as it does on Windows. No matter how hard it is for the Linux community to swallow this bitter pill, having Microsoft truly on our side is a win.

Also see