2011: The Year of Linux Disappointments: Page 2

As years go, 2011 was a kidney stone of a year for free and open source software.


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Posted December 13, 2011

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2011 also saw the rise and fall of Bitcoin, a peer-to-peer digitalized currency, an idea that resonated with many members of the community. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for example, briefly accepted donations in bitcoins. Soon, however, concerns about Bitcoin's legality and stability as a currency forced the Electronic Frontier Foundation as well as many others to withdraw their support, or at least proceed cautiously.

Several long-established community projects saw a decline as well. As the Chrome browser continues to increase in popularity, Firefox saw a corresponding decline, until in November the two were within a few percentage points of one another. In response to Chrome's popularity, Firefox has moved to releases every few months, but this move has been criticized as causing a decline in code quality.

The decline of OpenOffice.org in 2011 was even more catastrophic. Acquired by Oracle with the rest of Sun Microsystems' assets, OpenOffice.org managed one mediocre release before being handed to The Apache Foundation. It is currently an incubator project, trying to organize itself to be accepted as an official Apache project.

From the whispers of ApacheCon, OpenOffice.org may never leave the incubator project. The intention may be to do a thorough code audit and produce one last, clean release that the rival LibreOffice can absorb. Since LibreOffice's growth and development was one of the few bright spots in the FOSS community this year, this might be the most fitting conclusion to OpenOffice.org's troubled history.

Still another disappointment was the Ada Initiative, a non-profit organized to increase the participation of women in open technology and culture. When first announced, the Ada Initiative seemed the logical next step in solving the problem of misogyny in the community, and I briefly joined its board of advisors.

Unfortunately, despite having spent somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 in six months -- much of that apparently in salaries and travel -- The Ada Initiative has accomplished little that a volunteer group could not.

In fact, its founder's greatest success, the encouragement of conferences to adopt a model anti-harassment policy, was accomplished before the organization was founded. With its current fundraising campaign going so poorly that the progress bar was removed a few days ago from the home page, the non-profit seems to have failed to create the community support it needs to survive.

Being a new organization, The Ada Initiative might yet turn itself around or reinvent itself, especially if it finally manages to register as a charity. However its debut is distinctly lackluster, especially in contrast to the GNOME Outreach Program for Women which returned in 2011 with several successful rounds of internship, and in the process demonstrated how a well-organized program increases participants' chances of success.

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Another largely unnoticed reinvention is the Debian distribution. Long dethroned by its derivative Ubuntu in popularity, Debian spent much of 2011 reinventing itself. In the past few twelve months, it has -- among other things -- tried to encourage cooperation among its derivatives, revamped its new member process, and experimented with IRC training sessions.

In short, Debian spent the year adjusting at last to its current role as an indirect influence rather than the major distribution. In the process, it provides one of the few upbeat stories in the FOSS community for 2011.

2011's Technology Issues

For a few weeks in September and October, FOSS technical news was dominated by concerns that the new Unified Extensible Firmware Interface (UEFI), the upcoming replacement for the computer BIOS, would prevent Linux and other operating systems being installed instead of Windows. The concern was sparked by Microsoft's intention to promote the use of UEFI with Windows 8, and was not subdued by Microsoft's sometimes ambiguous statements on the subject. However, Matthew Garrett's assurance that getting Linux to work with UEFI was relatively trivial did much to calm the concern.

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Tags: Linux, Gnome, KDE, FOSS

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