9 Free and Open Source Software Stories to Watch in 2011

From Gnome 3.0 to Chrome OS to Wikileaks, the year ahead should prove interesting for Linux and open source.
Posted December 28, 2010

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

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This year, I'm giving up making predictions. By my count, my record for 2010 was slightly worse than random chance, and my inability to impress readers individually with cold readings makes me conclude that I should leave fortune telling to the tarot readers.

Instead, here are the stories that are likely to make headlines in 2011 for free and open source software. The New Year being an arbitrary division, the majority of them are developments of stories that began in 2010, or even earlier:

1) The Response to GNOME 3.0

The next major release of the GNOME desktop was delayed twice in 2010 -- predictably, since cleaning up and revising an operating system is a large undertaking. Also GNOME developers are hoping to release a polished new version, rather than a work-in-progress like KDE 4.0, whose unfinished state received such a hostile reception in 2008.

Unfortunately, the development versions released in 2010 have not been received with unanimous enthusiasm, either. Part of this reception may be nothing more than conservatism, but part of it may be that GNOME 3.0's apparent emphasis on multiple workspaces is too elaborate for users who view desktops as simply a launch pad for their applications.

Unless GNOME developers can pull a last minute rabbit out of their collective hat, a mixed response for GNOME 3.0 seems inevitable. Even then, a fork to continue development of GNOME 2.0 is probable. A strongly hostile reaction may weaken GNOME's dominant position on the desktop, increasing the popularity of KDE or opening the way for Ubuntu's Unity desktop.

2) The Reception of Chrome OS

The much-delayed Chrome OS should make a debut some time in 2011. A cloud-oriented operating system, Chrome will officially be available only as part of bundled computers, although the source code and unofficial builds are available online.

Some pundits see the potential for Chrome to become a major competitor to Windows. However, while Google's size alone could give it clout, Google's sometimes lackluster marketing of the Nexus phone proves that size is only part of the formula for success. The limited functionality of online apps, combined with issues about privacy and availability, may severely limit Chrome's success. Even if users don't use 80% of the features in most software, they may still prefer to have them all available.

However, Paul Buchheit predicts Chrome OS's real competitor may be Google's own Android OS. As Buchheit tweeted, "ChromeOS has no purpose that isn’t better served by Android (perhaps with a few mods to support a non-touch display)."

3) The Balance of Innovation Between OpenOffice.org and LibreOffice

LibreOffice is the fork of OpenOffice.org that was announced in September 2010. Part of the reason for the fork is a lack of confidence in Oracle's stewardship of OpenOffice.org, but equally important is a long-standing discontent among many developments over the slowness of OpenOffice.org's evolution.

Although a release candidate of LibreOffice's first release is currently available, it has few differences from OpenOffice.org. However, anyone who browses the mailing lists of both LibreOffice and OpenOffice.org can hardly help but notice that LibreOffice's are the more lively. In the enthusiasm for the fork, everything seems up for reconsideration, and this attitude could lead to a 2011 release that is strongly different from OpenOffice.org.

Yet possibly, Oracle could respond to the competition with innovations of its own. If so, then the real question for users is whether the two competing projects will borrow code from each other, or whether we'll have to become active consumers, carefully considering the pros and cons of the two rivals before downloading.

4) The Success of the Ubuntu Stack

Ubuntu and its commercial arm Canonical showed a preference for a free software stack that they could dominate and a reluctance for working with existing projects. For instance, they have chosen to invest efforts in the Wayland project rather than the established X.org project, and to develop the Unity desktop rather than work on the standard GNOME desktop or their own spin-off.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Ubuntu, Gnome, Wikileaks

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