Monday, 31 December 2007

Reflections on an eventful 2007 for Linux

My, 2007 has been an eventful year for Linux! I only started using it at all in February (the first distro I tried was Fedora Core 5 for those who are interested - didn't like it I'm afraid!), and started using Kubuntu full time in April, and I've noticed what a busy year it's been.
Here's my roundup of my top ten events in the world of Linux from 2007:
  1. Dell selling preinstalled Ubuntu - you knew this was coming, didn't you? This is probably the most significant event - the first major PC retailer to sell preinstalled Linux. From what I've heard, they're doing pretty well too, thanks in part to the lacklustre Windows Vista, and in part due to the fact that Ubuntu is a sensible, well-though out distro that's easy to use. Other OEM's are now looking on and considering their options carefully, so I would not be at all surprised if more vendors begin to offer preinstalled Linux in 2008. Even if other vendors do start offering preinstalled Linux, when I next buy a laptop I will probably get a Dell, as my three-year old Inspiron running Kubuntu Gutsy has proven pretty reliable - I haven't needed to use any restricted drivers on it. It does have a Winmodem so if I used dialup I'd need to use a restricted driver for that, but I use a wireless connection so it's not an issue.
  2. The gPC - Regular readers may have noticed my enthusiasm for gOS and the gPC. As an entry-level PC, something like that is unbeatable, and gOS is incredibly easy to use. It's become increasingly apparent that Linux may well be finding a niche on the desktop in cheap, entry level PC's where neither Apple nor Microsoft can effectively compete. At around $199 (works out about £100 on current exchange rates) without a monitor, the price on this machine is excellent, and for something that will only be used for browsing the Web, e-mail and writing the odd letter, it's perfectly suitable. Ideal as a second PC, or for Granny or the kids. Who'd have thought Linux would be suitable for your nan a few years ago? I'm just eager to see if Asda (who are owned by Wal-Mart) will be selling this soon. Apparently it's gone down a storm, and they are planning to sell a laptop version in 2008.
  3. Microsoft's patent claims - This seemed to turn out to be less of an event than I thought it might have been. Most of the Linux vendors have quite rightly refused to be intimidated by Microsoft's vague and unsubstantiated claims that Linux violates 235 of their patents. My knowledge of the issue is limited, but I understand that to actually take legal action, Microsoft would have to specify what those patents were, which would then enable developers to code around these issues, but by refusing to state what these patents are, Microsoft are just stirring up FUD in an attempt to discourage people from using Linux and to try to scare Linux vendors to sign up to their patent agreement, as Novell had already done. The only vendors to sign up as a result were Linspire, Xandros, and TurboLinux. None of the big distributors apart from Novell have signed up, and Ubuntu, Red Hat and Mandriva have all rejected these claims.
  4. Android - Linux has existed on mobile phones for a while, but Android is something that could easily be revolutionary. By providing a simple, off-the-shelf operating system for mobile phones, Google have created something that could well go on to become an industry standard. It would allow for applications to be created using a single standard to work on any phone with Android installed - something that we will definitely need if the mobile Internet is ever likely to come about. I don't want it to become a virtual monopoly the way Windows has on the desktop, but I can't wait to see the first mobile phones with Android.
  5. Tesco selling PC's with preinstalled Ubuntu Dapper - Much like the gPC, Tesco's decision to sell a basic computer with preinstalled Ubuntu meant that there was a cheap way of getting an entry-level computer without paying for a copy of Windows, which let's face it is overkill for if you're just going to browse the web and play a few games. Ubuntu is more than capable of doing that.
  6. The Asus Eee PC - Potentially the most exciting development in terms of desktop Linux, the Asus Eee PC is an excellent example of a subnotebook. Because Linux is much lighter than Windows, it's ideal for running on such devices. And they've chosen a version of Xandros, a Linux distro that closely resembles Windows, to make it easier for people who are used to Windows to use. Many people who'd never normally even consider using Linux will no doubt find themselves using these.
  7. GPL v3 - Admittedly, the Linux kernel is sticking with version 2, at least for the moment, but this was certainly a big event in the world of free software. The first change to the GPL in over a decade, v3 saw some significant changes off the back of Microsoft's patent claims.
  8. SCO vs Linux- I wasn't around for the start of this, I've only seen the end, but I gather this is significant. I won't go into it as I don't know much about it, but for those interested in reading more, here's a link.
  9. Loads more great Linux releases! - 2007 has been a good year in terms of steady improvement of Linux distributions. We've seen great new versions of Ubuntu, Fedora, Open SuSE and many more. Meanwhile, Windows Vista has been a crushing disappointment for many people, raising the likelihood that some of them may consider looking elsewhere for an operating system. Even the eye-candy is improving - Compiz Fusion is amazing to see, and far better than anything Vista can offer. I can't wait to see how they will continue to improve over the next few years.
  10. Increasing Linux adoption - This follows on from the previous point. I've seen many reports that Linux adoption, both commercial and by home users, is on the rise. Thanks to more user-friendly distros such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint and PCLinuxOS, Linux is now easy enough to use that it's a viable alternative to Windows. Nowadays, I think the barrier to more Linux adoption is mostly psychological, people stick with what they know and if something else works a different way they perceive it as a fault with the product. If you go into Linux expecting it to be just like Windows, you'll be disappointed. But approach it without preconceptions and you'll do just fine.
Well, that wraps it up really. As you can see, 2007 has been a very exciting year for Linux, and I'm pleased that I've been able to see it all happen.

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