Easy season for open source

No breakthroughs, but lots of little stories, continue to build momentum for open source this summer, says columnist Evan Leibovitch.

COMMENTARY--The day-traders are gone from the Linux scene, the hype is down to manageable levels, yet the news still indicates increasing momentum for open-source-based projects and businesses.

Within the last few months we have seen the emergence of new distribution releases based on the Linux 2.4 kernel as well as new releases of XFree86, KDE, Samba, and other packages. When 2.4.0 was released in January I said it wasn't time to cheer yet. Well, that time has come. Red Hat, SuSE, and Caldera all have released major upgrades. Corel and Storm are gone, but Progeny seems more than capable of filling in with a capable Debian-based commercial OS. Even Slackware received a major update recently. And I can't say enough good things about Mandrake 8.0, which provides a clean install, and seamlessly supports a host of both GNOME and KDE apps. On top of that, work on the 2.5 kernel is well underway, and the current kernel is at 2.4.6 with 2.4.7 ready soon.

In an advance at least as important as recent kernel developments, the Linux Standards Base Group last week announced it has finally released a version 1.0 reference specification. Though it arrived quietly, this is a significant event. The LSB specification allows developers to target a single environment for Linux development. Moreover, it puts one more nail in the coffin of the complaints about Linux fragmentation. The next major release of most Linux distributions will likely comply with this new specification.

The declarations of a dead Linux desktop are also proving to be premature, if not wrong, this summer. For instance, Ford's European arm recently made public its intent to move away from Windows desktops to an open source alternative. To be certain, there is still a lot of work ahead before Linux desktops and their associated applications become mainstream. But the challenges are surmountable, and the various Linux GUI projects appear as determined as ever to tackle them. KDE in particular appears to be working at a breakneck pace, releasing a beta of version 2.2 only four months after 2.1 was out.

I'm still cautiously optimistic about Linux on the desktop. While it may never become the dominant desktop, it need only offer a credible and stable alternative to succeed. One could argue, based on that criterion, that the Linux desktop has already succeeded, at least to Ford Europe and others. But I see things getting even better as the quantity and quality of open source applications increases. Consider for example GnuCash, a Quicken-like personal finance manager that has quickly come into its own.

I see more and more companies looking to Linux as they increasingly find the Microsoft-led status quo too much to stomach. Even if Linux desktops aren't as polished as Windows--and they aren't, yet--their cost advantages are hard to beat. And you aren't likely to get a licensing audit demand from a Linux vendor anytime soon.

So far, it's been a summer of quiet confidence in the open source world. The attacks from Microsoft have had surprisingly little effect, and few of its allegations have stuck. I expect to see more fierce attacks once vacation season ends, but for now, it's a season of steady progress.

Are you switching to Linux desktops? Tell Evan in the Talkback below or in the ZDNetLinux Forum.