​Linux and open source 2014: It was the best of years, it was the worst of years

There was great news and there was awful news in the world of Linux and open-source software during 2014.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Linux and open-source software had many high points this year, but it also had many low ones as well. Let's just get it over with and start with the worst.

Microsoft and Linux became buddies in 2014.

Linux and open-source fiascoes

1) Heartbleed

When you program with open-source the right way, it creates great software. When you accept open-source as magic, you end up with Heartbleed.

Heartbleed, if you don't recall, was an OpenSSL security hole that affected hundreds of millions of websites, It's root cause was that everyone--and I mean everyone--just assumed that it was safe because it was open source. So, for years no one bothered to check to see if the code really was reliable. It wasn't.

2) Systemd wars

If you're not deep into Linux, you've never heard of systemd. If you are serious about Linux you couldn't avoid it. Systemd started as a way of controlling what programs run when a Linux system boots up . While systemd is compatible with SysV and Linux Standard Base (LSB) init scripts, systemd is meant to be a drop-in replacement for these older ways of getting a Linux system running.

But, because it's become a complex program that tries to do far more (for example it's now essential to run the GNOME 3.x desktop), it drew a lot of criticism. The technical problems can be summed up as it doesn't follow the Linux,/Unix philosophy of creating small tools to do just one job and it's expanded to absorb other utilities and create new program dependencies.

It also didn't help any that its primary creator, Lennart Poettering, has been fighting with Linux Torvalds and other top Linux developers. Of course, they haven't been happy with Poettering either.

The long and short of it is that systemd has, nevertheless, become the default init system in most Linux distributions, but there are still many developers who hate it. In a word, the situation is still "ugly."

3) Open-source licensing not being used

I don't really mind that GPL is no longer the 800-pound gorilla of open-source licensing. I do mind, however that so many "open" programs are coming out without any open-source licensing.

How many? In 2013 77 percent of all GitHub programs didn't have licenses. The lawsuits are waiting to happen and I'll have to cover them. Bleck!

4) Neither Ubuntu Touch nor Steam Machines shipped

This time last year, I thought we'd see Ubuntu Touch smartphones and tablets ship and/or SteamOS powered gaming machines. Neither happened. Feh!

It now looks like the first Ubuntu Touch phone will ship in February 2015 and the first SteamOS gaming console won't be showing up until later in 2015.

OK, that's the bad news. Here's the good news.

Linux and open-source software wins

1) The top end-user operating system is probably Linux

How can that be since Windows still owns the desktop? It's all those sneaky, and popular, Android smartphones and tablets. I'm still waiting for the final numbers for 2014, but the growth dealt certainly made it look like Android, followed a long, long way back by ChromeOS and desktop Linux distributions, will make Linux the top end-user operating system.

Heck, would Microsoft be bringing Office to Android if that wasn't where the customers were? I don't think so!

2) Open source becomes the top programming methodology

Four, count 'em, four out of five programmers now use,or have recently used, open source development tools. Don't believe me? Let me point once more to Microsoft, the proprietary software company par excellence.

In 2014. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said that "Microsoft loves Linux." I think Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer would have chocked to death before that phrase came out of either of their mouths. Microsoft is open-sourcing much of .NET, partnering with Canonical to bring Windows Server to OpenStack, and supporting open-source Docker.

Jim Zemlin, the Linux Foundation's executive director, recently blogged "2014 was a tipping point where companies decided there was too much software to write for any one company to do it by themselves. They are shedding commodity software R&D by investing in 'external R&D' with open source."

Zemlin's right and everyone knows it now.

3) Open source rules the cloud

More specifically, OpenStack seemingly has every major tech company in the world supporting it. Even rivals, such as Microsoft and VMware are backing it.

Everyone in IT knows that the cloud is the future, albeit many of them still aren't happy about it, and OpenStack is going to be one of the major cloud players.

4) Red Hat and Canonical to battle for the cloud

Canonical may not have gotten its Ubuntu Touch phones out, but it's the top Linux system on OpenStack. At the same time, Red Hat wants to be OpenStack, and indeed the cloud's, top dog.

Whether it's Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) or Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), the two companies were moving into position to see which Linux will end up dominating the cloud.

This is going to be a very interesting battle and it's won't be sorted out by the end of 2015. I'm not even going to put a bet on this one. Both companies have strengths and weaknesses and it will be very interesting indeed to watch how it all turns out.

5) Docker redefines data-center and cloud computing

A year ago almost none of you had even heard of Docker, and nearly as few had ever heard of containers. Now, Docker is bringing container technology to almost all data center and cloud computing companies.

Why? Because technically Docker enables developers to pack, ship, and run any application as a lightweight, portable, self sufficient container that can run virtually anywhere. The business reason is that Docker enables companies to run about twice as many applications on a server than a virtual machine. What business doesn't want to cut its data-center costs by half?

The Big Picture

Taken together, it's been a good year for Linux and open-source software. Next year will be even better.

Don't mistake me. 2014 also had more than its share of problems, but with everyone now backing Linux and open-source, 2015 really is the year that these two twin technologies will dominate all of IT. There may never be a year of the Linux desktop, but the year of Linux IT is almost upon us.

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