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.

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