Our sister magazine Linux Format approached some of the brightest stars in the free software firmament to look back over the last 12 months and ask what’s coming up over the next year.
Here’s what they said…
Who was asked
The godfather of GNU, Stallman wrote the GPL, the licence that keeps free software free. He also wrote GCC, which lets us compile software for the Linux kernel.
The creator of Mandrake Linux, the first GNU/Linux distro to take usability seriously as a feature. As the boss of Ulteo, Gaël is taking the OS in a new direction.
One of the elder statesmen of the Perl community, Damien designed Perl 6 and is thus responsible for the glue that holds the internet together. Kitten blogs wouldn’t exist without him.
Ciarán campaigns against software patents in Brussels, for the aptly named End Software Patents. Even if you live outside the EU, he’s trying to make your life better.
As the creator of Linux Mint, Clem is probably the man most in tune with what free software users want on a day-to-day basis. He’s also involved with Mate and Cinnamon.
As Debian project leader, Stefano guides the most free distro of them all. Debian doesn’t bend with the wind: it’s principled, solid and it will be around forever.
What was the best thing to happen to free software over the last 12 months?
Damien Conway: For me, it’s the continuing rise and rise of Git and GitHub. Both the technology and the website have, of course, been around for over half a decade now, but this past year seems to have been a kind of watershed in terms of uptake, usage, and general community awareness. The Git ecology isn’t just an excellent example of free software in its own right; far more importantly, it’s a massive enabler of collaborative free software development.
Clement Lefebvre: Without a doubt, Mate. Gnome 2 is what most people used. It’s rock solid, mature, it’s got the best printing, communication and network configuration tools out there and they just work. It represents years of efforts, improvements, and a huge pool of third-party components, applets and themes. For it not to disappear and continue under a new name, that has to be the single best achievement of the year. Credit to the Mate team for stepping up and taking over its maintenance.
I’m personally involved in one of the coolest projects out there, with Cinnamon, and I know people are excited about what we do, what Canonical does with Unity and what Gnome does with Shell. We’re having a lot of fun and we’re producing great technologies.
There’s a lot of buzz on the forums, IRC and in the press about these new desktops but they appeal primarily to the vocal minority of GNU/ Linux enthusiasts who follow the news, like to try new things and are happy to accept that everything isn’t fully ready yet. There are a lot of users out there who don’t upgrade as often, don’t follow the latest blogs and who simply don’t understand why something that worked well before isn’t available anymore or lost features all of sudden.
Mate is also a testament to free software and an illustration of what is commonly referred to as “freedom”. Here we were, faced with a situation where the most popular GNU/Linux desktop was discontinued by its developers and no longer maintained. Thanks to the fact that it was licensed under the GPL, people from the GNU/Linux community gathered, formed a new team and took over its maintenance. This is a credit to that freedom that we all have to not only enjoy software, but to modify it to our needs, to redistribute it in an open manner, and for it to live beyond the scope or the interest of its original authors.
Gaël Duval: There have been many interesting things happening in 2012, and maybe one of the biggest is the huge open source acceptance in IT. Open source is now everywhere, and I can’t see as much FUD about it as there used to be earlier in this century.
However, one notable thing, that didn’t make much noise, is perhaps the reorganisation of Mandriva Linux, and the creation of an OpenMandriva Foundation. There are a lot of good things happening there, deep changes that deserve more exposure in the IT world.
Stefano Zacchiroli: I’m going to go with something quite controversial: the Apple vs Samsung patent fight. Software patents don’t stop being a huge threat to free software, especially in countries like the US, but in many others around the world with different shades of grey. I’m convinced that what we really need to fix that is a thermonuclear war among big players on software patents. Eventually they’ll realise (for the few who didn’t yet) that the current status of software patents is against even their own interests and beg for patent reform.
This seems to have started, or escalated to a next level, in 2012 with cases like Apple vs Samsung. Now we just have to hope that patent reforms won’t end up being worse than the status quo…
On the same topic, I’ve been thrilled to see the voices of economists trying to explain that patents do not actually promote innovation (like Boldrin & Levine) reaching mass media, in the US and elsewhere.
What was the biggest fail of 2012?
DC: Java. I can appreciate the language and the wider ecosystem, but I hate the politics, the buck-passing, and the lack of quality control and security that are crippling it on so many platforms.
CL: SCO! That has to the biggest of them all. Regarding Miguel de Icaza’s comments on Linus Torvalds, desktop Linux and Mac OS X… I have a lot of respect for what Miguel did, but look, when my iPhone doesn’t sync with my operating system because Apple designed it not to work with anything else than iTunes, I don’t think my operating system is broken, I think there’s something wrong with my phone.
I also don’t agree on looking up to Mac OS or iOS as what desktop Linux ‘should’ be – I wouldn’t work on these platforms, and I don’t think they’re doing a better job, not for our audience anyway. Apple is very successful but I think it’s primarily to do with its image, its marketing, and the superb quality of its hardware design.
The other big fail was when Flash was announced as a future “Chromium exclusive”. I’m hoping that YouTube will fully support HTML 5 in time for Google not to kill Firefox on the GNU/Linux desktop. Ironically, it might survive thanks to iOS not supporting Flash and we might end up thanking Apple for that.
Richard Stallman: I’m not sure the word “fail” is adequate to describe the surveillance-and-ads malfeature in Ubuntu GNU/Linux. This is no accident: it is a deliberate wrong.
When Ubuntu users search their own files, Ubuntu sends their search terms to Canonical. This abuses their privacy. Then Canonical sends them ads to buy from Amazon, a company that mistreats its workers, publishers, authors and the users. See http://stallman.org/amazon.html for why you should not buy from Amazon.
Free software developers usually don’t dare put in malicious features; they know that if they do, people will switch to corrected (non-malicious) versions. The prospect of such failure usually discourages anyone from trying it. This exception suggests that Canonical thinks it has so much influence that it can get away with abuse. For the sake of our community’s reputation, we should teach Canonical that is not so.
GD: I’m not very happy with Android-Linux as it is now for many reasons. It seems to me that it’s driven by costs, not innovation, and that it doesn’t give that much back to Linux.
CO’R: More of a setback than a fail, but I think Microsoft’s Restricted Boot is the biggest negative event of 2012. Locked-down handhelds and PCs are the biggest threat to free software, bigger than software patents.
SZ: Secure Boot. It is a debate that has taken the free software world by storm, and it seems more and more a lose-lose situation. On one hand the use case to defend against pre-boot malware is real. On the other, it has shown how skewed the hardware market is. Either you’re among the big guys able to convince hardware vendors to include your own keys, or you have to beg for signatures of your boot images or force your users to go through painful key enrolling processes.