2012 was the year that the Linux desktop diversified.
Two years ago, users could choose between two or three desktop environments. But by the end of the first quarter of 2012, they had at least eight choices, with more on the way.
Similarly, the year started with LibreOffice as the main office suite. But halfway through the year, LibreOffice was joined by Apache OpenOffice as well as Calligra Suite.
Just as importantly, 2012 saw several events which, although they had little influence during the calendar year, are apt to influence the Linux desktop in 2013 and beyond.
Here is my list of the major Linux desktop announcements, releases and initiatives of 2012.
In the first months of 2012, GNOME users were struggling with the question of whether to accept GNOME 3 or to switch to alternatives such as Xfce. The situation changed overnight with the first general releases of Linux Mint's Cinnamon and Mate.
As you probably know, both Cinnamon and Mate offer a GNOME 2 experience: Cinnamon by adding extensions to GNOME 3, Mint by forking and updating GNOME 2. Both gave many users what they wanted and proved that at least some developers were listening. Better yet, the two alternatives gave users an even broader choice, with reviewers carefully weighing the pros and cons of both.
Within six months, other distributions started shipping with Cinnamon or Mate. More recently, both desktops have continued giving the tradition of giving users what they wanted, such as a GNOME 2 file manager. While neither seems likely to be a major source of innovation, together they have firmly established Linux Mint as a leading distribution.
At a time when Unity and GNOME 3 are attempting to develop single interfaces for everything from workstations and laptops to tablets and phones, KDE is pursuing a policy of developing different interfaces for each form factor. 2012 saw two releases of KDE's tablet interface, Plasma Active, which stands out among the alternatives for its task-oriented organization and ease of use.
Plasma Active can be installed on a variety of tablets and is currently being modified for Google's Nexus 7 tablet.
At the same time, KDE is planning its own Vivaldi tablet (formerly known as Spark). Although delayed by manufacturing problems, this effort marks the first time that a major community project has started a commercial venture. It could very well change how the community and corporations interact, and at the very least, create new roles such as product manager in free software. Others, such as Mozilla and GNOME, are contemplating similar ventures, but the odds are that Vivaldi will be first to be released.
Admittedly, in 2012, both Plasma Active and Vivaldi were more objects of curiosity than of widespread adoption. Potentially, however, their influence on the Linux desktop, both technically and socially could be enormous in the next couple of years.