2011 will see the first Ubuntu releases with the Unity desktop, and, by the end of the year, we should see how it is being received. On the one hand, Unity's design is simple enough for everything from the desktop to mobile devices, which should simplify code maintenance and makes it easy to learn. On the other hand, it seems too simple for more experienced users who want control over their computing.
Whether Ubuntu's popularity can force acceptance of Unity, or whether articles about replacing it with standard GNOME will suddenly appear everywhere is anybody's guess. Mine is that we will see a little of both. Just possibly, though, Canonical will prosper or collapse over this single issue.
August 2010 saw Oracle file charges of patent infringement against Google for its use of Java. In 2011, we should learn if Google plans to contest the charges, settles out of court, or even agrees to a patent tax on Android phones.
How the suit develops will also indicate how Oracle will deal with free software in general. Will it become a good corporate citizen of the free software community? Or will it simply try to manipulate free software for its immediate corporate interests? If Oracle is only interested in manipulation, then other similar cases may be filed in 2011.
One of the major business stories in open source software was Attachmate's acquisition of Novell, and with it SUSE Enterprise Linux and support of the openSUSE community.
Attachmate has issued assurances that it will continue Novell's extensive involvement in free software However, the community is skeptical of such assurances from corporations, having had similar ones recently from Oracle. Moreover, Attachmate's lack of experience in free software is a cause for concern.
Given Novell's contributions to the Linux kernel, LibreOffice, and other projects, any reduction in activity by Novell could have serious -- although possibly temporary -- effects on the progress of free software. At least some changes in personnel and emphasis seem likely, even if Attachmate proves itself capable of fitting into free software.
2010 was marked by the emergence of WebM and HTML 5's video element as alternatives to Flash and other online video formats. Both formats are already starting to appear as an option on sites like YouTube.
2011 should see the continued development of these formats, as browsers and other applications release versions that support them. The year should also see a struggle between WebM and HTML 5 for dominance. Given that WebM is backed by Google, and HTML 5 is the latest development of an already ubiquitous format, which one wins out is impossible to predict. Very likely, the competition will emerge in 2011, but not be settled for several more years.
The concept of intellectual property has always been decried by free software advocates like Richard Stallman, on the grounds that it stifles innovation and can hinder the spread of free software. Since 2006, one of the ongoing concerns has been ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), a proposed international agreement for cooperation and enforcement of patents, copyrights, and other aspects of intellectual property law.
Since the proposed text was released in November 2010, the issue has gained new urgency.
Aside from the assumption that intellectual property is a concept that is workable and deserves to be perpetuated, ACTA is objectionable for a number of reasons.
To start with, its name equates the counterfeiting of physical goods with copyright and file-sharing. In addition, it could entrench the use of Digital Rights Management and make the disabling of it illegal, allow for the seizure and destruction of hardware suspected of being involved in infringement, and searches at the request of non-government organizations such as the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
To make matters worse, much of the discussion about ACTA has been conducted in secret and outside existing organizations such as the World Intellectual Property Organization.