Free Software Crystal Ball 2008 - Page 2

 By Bruce Byfield
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GNU/Linux preloads continue, but sluggishly

In 2007, Dell made headlines by offering Ubuntu pre-loaded on some machines. The event was rightly considered a milestone, and Lenovo has already announced that it will pre-load SUSE on some models next year.

Probably, one or two other companies will do the same, just so they won't look as though they're lagging behind competitors. However, my guess is that these efforts will do little to encourage the use of GNU/Linux on the desktop. As a community, we have a strong viewpoint and aren't shy about expressing it, but our organization gives us influence beyond our numbers. Considering that the average computer user isn't likely to switch from Windows any time soon, and that most free software advocates prefer to do their own installs, none of these pre-installs are likely to be a huge money-maker -- or even heavily advertised.

At most, these efforts will only add a percentage point or two to the GNU/Linux desktop numbers. And if the bottom line becomes troubled for Dell or Lenovo, guess what will get cut first?

Java becomes totally free

Since Sun announced that it was releasing the source code for Java in November 2006, an entire community has emerged dedicated to producing a free implementation of Java. About 95% of the code has been released, and the community is working to provide a substitution for the rest, most of which Sun licenses from third parties and therefore can't release the code for.

This missing code amounts to a quarter of a million lines of code, and includes such functions as the font rasterizer, the graphics rasterizer, color management, plugin support, and sound.

Sometime, probably in the last half of 2008, the final work in replacing these missing pieces will be finished. The exact moment will pass unnoticed, but a free implementation of Java will be announced a month or two afterwards. Then we'll see if Java can become a major challenger to .NET and Mono.

One Laptop Per Child achieves first widespread deployments

One Laptop per Child (OLPC), whose goal is to deliver sturdy, cheap computers loaded with free software to developing countries, is a project that many people love to hate. And it is true that food and clothing may seem like more immediate priorities in many regions. Personally, though, I've always thought it a case of people helping out where they could -- after all, geeks know more about computers than agriculture or textile manufacturing. Besides, in the long-term, the possibilities for education may do more to eliminate poverty than responding to the latest crisis.

However, no matter how you feel about the project, its computers are being manufactured and widespread deployment will begin shortly. You can expect hostile pundits to seize on every technical problem, and every sign of corruption, but, by the end of the year, we should be in a position to start judging OLPC. It will be a couple more years before the final verdict is in, but 2008 is when it truly boots up.

The GNU General Public License becomes an issue for new debates

After the outspoken reactions by Linus Torvalds and some of the kernel developers, many people were surprised when the release of the third version of the GNU General Public License in late June 2007 didn't cause the community to fragment. However, there were good reasons for this lack of reaction: Most projects weren't about to release a new version simply to change the license, and many wanted to wait and see.

But in 2008, new versions will be released, and projects will be unable to put off their decision any longer. In particular, sooner or later, someone may try to submit a contribution to the Linux kernel either under the newest version or dual-licensed with the older version. I suspect the new version will eventually prevail in most project, simply because it addresses concerns that the older one doesn't, but, until it does, all the old animosities and pieces of rhetoric are going to be voiced repeatedly.

Something that I can't imagine

These predictions are mostly extensions of issues that already exist, so they are hardly daring. But if nine years of using free software and watching the community has taught me anything, it's to expect the unexpected.

Undoubtedly, we'll see issues in 2008 that nothing in 2007 could have prepared us for -- and the free software community as a whole will continue to be an innovative, unruly and outspoken diversity of opinions and interests that commands our affections as much as our frequent exasperation.

Bruce Byfield is a computer journalist who writes regularly for Datamation, where this story first appeared, as well as Linux.com and Linux Journal.

This article was originally published on Jan 2, 2008
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