A few years from now, we may look back at 2012 as the year that major FOSS community projects started to become more like businesses -- or, at least, tried to.
Early in 2012, the KDE desktop environment announced its intention to create a tablet that runs KDE and other free software. Originally called Spark and then renamed Vivaldi, this tablet was originally supposed to be released in May. But it has been delayed by manufacturing problems.
About the same time, Mozilla announced its intentions to develop a smartphone running its own operating system. But although planned for release in 2012, this project, too, has been delayed. Meanwhile, GNOME is also discussing plans for its own phone, although no development schedule has been announced.
Still, the effort to bring these products to market suggests that the community's traditional distrust of business no longer applies.
The Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI) is a replacement for the traditional computer BIOS. It includes a feature called Secure Boot, which prevents any operating system without a security key from starting on a computer.
Secure Boot can be turned off, at least on some systems, but to do so means losing some of the benefits of UEFI. It also requires users to search through the list of system settings, not just once, but possibly multiple times should the computer ever be restored to factory defaults.
The fact that Microsoft is the only company that currently issues security keys for its operating system caused additional concerns in the FOSS community throughout 2012. Many worried that UEFI is a Microsoft plot against FOSS operating systems.
With the first computers with UEFI appearing in late 2012, much of the previous year has been spent searching for solutions. Ubuntu proposed obtaining the necessary security key for itself, while Linux Foundation has talked about obtaining a security key for a second bootloader that would allow the use of another operating system.
Probably the most practical solution -- especially for small Linux distributions or those who object to asking Microsoft for a security key -- is shim. Developed by Matthew Garrett, a former Red Hat employer, shim allows distributions to create their own certificates, following a set of easy instructions.
With the release of shim, the problem appears to have been solved. However, distributions have hardly have had time to add it to their installation disks, and widespread deployment may reveal the need for bug fixes. Just as importantly, modifications to Secure Boot may also require additional modifications to shim.
If such things happen, then the installation and updating of operating systems, which many members of the community take for granted, may not be as easy in the future as it was in the past. For now, the story seems to have a happy ending, but some uncertainty remains.
In a field as busy as FOSS, these were far from the only stories. Like IT in general, FOSS in 2012 continued to adapt to cloud-based computing. Eventually, too, it may either be influenced by the design of Windows 8 or, more likely, benefit from user dissatisfaction with it.
In addition, some memorable releases happened in 2012. Apache OpenOffice managed its first release and immediately fell into the expected rivalry with its cousin LibreOffice. Calligra Suite began regular releases, offering an alternative to both Apache OpenOffice and LibreOffice, and a different perspective on what a modern office suite should include. In addition, as I was writing, Samba 4 was released.
Then there are the stories that I unknowingly underestimated, or that are happening under the radar as I write. I have no doubt there are many of both.
But that's what makes writing about FOSS so rewarding -- there's always something new happening. I look forward to more of the same in 2013.