2010's 5 biggest Linux and open-source stories

The story behind the story is that Linux has become totally mainstream. You may not have a Linux desktop in front of you the way I do, but if you spend most of your day visiting Google, Facebook or Twitter, you're using Linux. That Android phone in your pocket? Linux. Your DVR? Probably Linux. Do you use a NAS (network attached storage) device for extra storage? Almost certainly Linux. Trade stocks? Yes, Linux again. You get the idea. Linux may be invisible, but it's also everywhere.

Still don't believe me? Look at the numbers and my first story of the year:

1. Red Hat, the billion-dollar open-source company

I predicted a few months ago that Red Hat would be the first billion-dollar open-source company. Though I was wrong with the timing -- I thought it might take more than a year -- it looks like Red Hat will become the first billion-dollar Linux company in 2011.

The new Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6 is already getting customers, and the company continues to push the boundaries of Linux with its new Fedora community Linux. Red Hat is living proof that open-source companies can be as successful and profitable as any proprietary software firm.

2. The decline of Sun open-source software under Oracle

Someone recently asked me if I were sorry that Oracle had bought Sun. I'm not. What am I sorry about is the way Oracle has forced out so many of Sun's outstanding open-source projects and developers. In place of spin of their RHEL clone: OpenSolaris, Oracle gave us another pointless Oracle Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel. Then there's how Oracle is handling -- or perhaps I should say, mis-handling -- Java. I could go on and on, but what's the point?

It's not that Oracle is anti-open source. Larry Ellison and company likes open source, so long as it directly benefits Oracle. When it doesn't -- and most of Sun's open-source projects didn't -- they're history. It makes business sense, but it's not how open-source development is meant to work.

3. Attachmate (Attachmate!?) buys Novell

If you believe Attachmate is really behind the buyout of Novell, I have a slightly used bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn you might want to buy. At the end of the day, Microsoft ended up calling the shots in this acquisition. I expect SUSE Linux to stick around, and Attachmate has said that openSUSE will continue, but in what form? I just don't know. I'm going to be watching this deal closely to see how it all comes out in the end -- but I don't have a good feeling about it.

4. Where oh where are the Android tablets and Google Chrome?

I really expected a small horde of Android tablets to have arrived by now to challenge the might Apple iPad. I was wrong. Android's developers ended up burning most of their energy on updating their operating system for smartphones and not for the wider screens of tablets. That's not to say that Android tablets won't show up at lower prices points. They will. It's just that the first models, like the Augen GenTouch78, were awful. But Android-powered e-readers, like the Nook Color, may actually be the first successful Android tablets.

Hey, Google: what about Chrome OS? You know, the Linux-based Web-browser as operating system that Google was working on? That project is taking a lot longer than Google first thought it would. In fact, don't look for Chrome OS now until 2011. And I'd been looking forward to it.

5) Ubuntu recommits to the desktop

For a while there, Canonical, Ubuntu Linux's parent company, was focusing on the server and the cloud. Ubuntu would love to give RHEL some competition, but the backers of this popular Linux distribution have also refocused on the desktop with the introduction of Unity as its primary desktop interface.

I'm excited by this development. I think Unity, which will also be Ubuntu's gateway into smartphones and tablets, will make a great way for users who don't know Linux to finally start using Linux. Unity may never be my favorite interface, but I'm an old guy who remembers the first interface wars as being between the Bourne shell and the C shell, not this new-fangled GNOME vs. KDE stuff. For people who don't care about Linux internals and never will, Unity may be just the desktop they need.

That's my list for 2010. For 2011, you'll need to visit me at my new Linux and open-source home over at ZDNet, though I'll still be doing a monthly column for Computerworld plus the occasional Computerworld feature and review. I look forward to 'seeing' you at both my Web homes.

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