2012 was generally not a year for major innovations in applications. An exception was Calligra Suite, a fork of the old KOffice.
Like LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice, Calligra Suite is a collection of office applications whose default format is Open Document Format. Unlike LibreOffice and Apache OpenOffice, Calligra has a modern-looking, modular design. Its graphical applications are particularly mature, especially its raster editor Krita, which recently announced its own foundation, and Flow, which is perhaps the best free software alternative to Visio.
Just as importantly, Calligra is redefining the idea of the office suite, adding a mind mapper and an e-book editor tool to the standard word processor, spreadsheet and presentation lineup. Although LibreOffice has done much to open up development of the free office suite, the emergence of Calligra can only help promote even more innovation.
Six months ago at the annual GUADEC conference, GNOME began a process of self-examination to determine policies and directions. The first result of this process was GNOME's announcement that, rather than continuing to support fallback mode, it will support a group of core extensions in order to provide a GNOME 2-like interface for those who need or want it.
Further hints of a change in GNOME came while I was preparing this story. GNOME announced a new campaign to add security and privacy features. Inspired by a talk at GUADEC by Jacob Appelbaum, the GNOME project plans to add such features such as disk encryption and application integration with privacy settings and anonymous browsing tool Tor.
So far, GNOME is using the announcement primarily for fundraising, and details are lacking. However, with the growing concern over privacy and security, I suspect that this campaign will help to restore to GNOME's reputation and will be copied by other desktop environments. It's simply an idea that's overdue for implementation.
These are only the major stories that shaped -- or promise to shape -- the Linux desktop. Another dozen or two stories could easily be added. They include the first release of Apache OpenOffice, which created an instant rivalry with LibreOffice, and the second effort to launch the cloud-oriented Chromebook laptops.
In other cases, stories are notable because of their apparent failure. Two of the most prominent failures were Ubuntu's experiments with the Head-Up Display (HUD), an attempt to replace traditional menus with a typing completion tool, and the inclusion of results from Amazon in desktop searches.
Both received considerable attention because of their novelty but were generally judged to be innovations in which few users had any long-term interest. Neither is likely to disappear, but neither are the HUD or Amazon search results likely to become popular or to influence other desktop environments.
Innovation and improvement are thriving on the Linux desktop, with a healthy combination of preserving what exists and of exploring new possibilities. I expect more of the same next year, with many of the initiatives begun in 2012 coming into first maturity.