I like to say that IT moves ten times faster than the rest of the economy -- and that free and open source software (FOSS) moves ten times faster than the rest of IT.
Certainly that held true in 2012. At times, FOSS reflects what is happening in IT in general, but events usually unfold much more quickly. FOSS solutions often arise in a matter of weeks, rather than the months it would take in general IT. At other times, events and trends affect FOSS while having hardly any effect on the rest of IT at all.
So what were the big stories for 2012? LWN is publishing quarter by quarter summaries of the events in FOSS for the last twelve months. However, here are the nine trends and stories that shaped 2012 the most for the community and that are likely to continue to influence events in 2013:
Crowdsourcing, the sponsorship of software by its users, is not new. Nor are other ingenious ways of funding projects. For instance, the Calibre ebook manager derives income from Open Books, a portal site for DRM-free publishers. One or two distros have also cut affiliate deals for a default search engine.
However, in 2012, nearly every FOSS project seems to have discovered crowdsourcing all at once. The only trouble is, FOSS projects that have regular releases don't fit well on existing crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, which caters to one-time projects.
The Yorba Foundation addressed the difficulties in a popular presentation at the 2012 GUADEC, raising the possibility of creating a software-specific site for crowdsourcing. More recently, the Free Software Foundation sponsored its first crowdsourcing campaign for MediaGoblin, a de-centralized media-sharing application. The efforts to make a living from FOSS are only likely to continue in 2013 and beyond.
All of which leaves you to wonder: Is there a limit to the number of projects that the community can support by crowdsourcing? What happens to unpopular but necessary projects that can't raise the money they need?
The days of GNOME and KDE dominating the desktop are gone. A side effect of the rise of Ubuntu's Unity and user revolts is that users have more choice than ever regarding which interface to use.
Traditional desktops have proved popular, with many users opting for re-creations of GNOME 2, such as Linux Mint's Cinnamon and Mate. Others have preferred Xfce, which has been the third major desktop for over a decade. LXDE and other minimalistic desktops have also become more widely used.
Others prefer more innovative desktops, such as Unity or GNOME 3, while KDE manages a balance of tradition and innovation.
The one shortcoming of this diversity is that many coding hours have been spent re-creating GNOME 2 that might have gone into creating something new. The question for next year is whether GNOME's support of a core group of extensions for re-creating GNOME 2 will help GNOME regain something of its former domination.