December 31, 2004 Edition

by Andrew Forgue (mailto:syndicate@arslinux.com), Mathew Jackson (mailto:mathew.jackson@gmail.com) and Amit Gurdasani (mailto:amit@arslinux.com)

The End of the Year Edition

In this week's issue of Linux.Ars, we bring to you a recap of the past year's activity, its successes and failures, in the *nix and open source world.

This past year has been quite eventful in the open-source and *nix world. The greatest advances in the *nix world in 2004 have been in the realm of the desktop. Very shortly before the start of the year, Linus released kernel version 2.6.0 to the world, bringing substantial improvements (http://www.arstechnica.com/etc/linux/index.html) to interactive and throughput-oriented performance alike, vaster support for hardware devices and new and improved features to Linux users. This was closely followed by rapidly improving support for mobile technologies such as IEEE 802.11g (54 Mbit/s wireless LAN) devices and the Centrino IPW2000 series wireless devices. Distributions were quick to pick up the new releases, with SUSE, Fedora and Mandrake leading the way with SUSE 9.1 and 9.2, Fedora Core 2 and 3 and Mandrake 10.

Speaking of distributions, Sun and Novell introduced their corporate offerings the Java Desktop System (http://www.sun.com/software/javadesktopsystem/) and the Novell Linux Desktop (http://www.novell.com/products/desktop/index.html?sourceidint=productsmenu_nld_bottom) respectively. Mark Shuttleworth (of Thawte fame) and his company Canonical released Ubuntu Linux (http://www.ubuntulinux.org/), a new Debian-based distribution that has rocked the Linux desktop world.

Desktop technologies broke much new ground in 2004, with the release of GNOME 2.6 (http://arstechnica.com/reviews/os/gnome-2-6.ars) and 2.8 (http://www.gnomejournal.org/article/3/looking-at-gnome-28) and KDE 3.2 (http://arstechnica.com/reviews/os/kde-3-2.ars) and 3.3 (http://www.eweek.com/article2/0,1759,1650292,00.asp). In particular, GNOME made many advances, including support for the spatial metaphor in its file manager, Nautilus; many improvements in the GTK+ widget toolkit, including a much-improved file selection dialog box; an enhanced file types/associations system; and integration of Project Utopia (http://arstechnica.com/columns/linux/linux-01-23-2004.ars) components to allow for much smoother hardware detection and integration. KDE added, among much functionality, more and faster eyecandy, enhanced hardware support (configuration and monitoring), improved functionality and integration in the browser/file manager and integration of secret management. Both added much PIM functionality and greatly improved their accessibility support.

Desktop frameworks also saw much advancement. A licensing debate among the members of the XFree86 Project (http://www.xfree86.org) led to a change in the license of the new XFree86 4.4 release, which was deemed to be unfriendly to open source. As a result, X.org (http://www.x.org/), the organization responsible for the X Window System protocol and interface standards and reference implementation, forked the last source code released under the traditional MIT/X11 license as the official X.org distribution (http://arstechnica.com/columns/linux/linux-20040825.ars) of the X Window System, Release 11. The year saw Releases 6.7.0, 6.8.0 and 6.8.1. X11R6.8.0 heralded mainstream support for various extensions to the core protocol enabling much new functionality the newly-introduced Xfixes, Composite and Damage extensions (http://arstechnica.com/etc/linux/2003/linux.ars-11112003-1.html) and the associated xcompmgr and transset tools resulted in a new wave of screenshots showing off translucency/alpha blending and drop shadow effects.

Desktop applications also saw much development. The Mozilla Project released the 1.0 releases of the explosively popular Firefox (http://www.mozilla.org/projects/firefox) web browser and Thunderbird (http://arstechnica.com/reviews/apps/thunderbird.ars) mail user agent. Additionally, Evolution, GNOME's Mail User Agent, saw its 2.0 release and applications such as Rhythmbox, JuK, Totem, Epiphany and K3B made great strides in functionality and ease of use alike.

Retailers like Wal*Mart increased their shipments of PCs preloaded with Linux; they added JDS systems to their existing Lycoris- and Linspire-based lineup and recently started shipping a $498 laptop (http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.gsp?product_id=3504708&cat=179113&type=19&dept=3944) loaded with Linspire. This, coupled with several governments deciding to increase their use of Linux-based computers, has seen the mindshare of Linux and open source climb further during the past year.

The good must be taken with the bad; partly because of Linux's greater visibility, SCO targeted its users in several lawsuits despite damaging losses in the courtrooms. However, Novell and other vendors announced their preparedness to indemnify their customers in case of legal action and Novell, owner of several UNIX copyrights, has demonstrated the frivolity of these lawsuits.

On the development side of things, the Mono Project (http://arstechnica.com/columns/linux/linux-20040715.ars) saw its first release followed by an eager release of new tools and frameworks. In particular, the Mono project has been enthusiastically integrating with the GNOME Project, enabling GNOME applications to be quickly and efficiently written using the Mono runtime environment. Dashboard and Beagle are two applications written using the .NET framework targeting Mono that look very promising for rich content indexing and lookup for the desktop. Sun released the Java 5 runtime and software development kit, advancing the functionality and features available on that platform further. Fluendo (http://www.fluendo.com/) contributed to the development of the GStreamer framework, hiring on many core developers, as well as funding the development of Vorbis and Theora.

Relatedly, OpenBSD, FreeBSD and NetBSD all saw new releases emphasizing security and performance, and Sun's Solaris 10, slated to be released under an open-source license, is eagerly awaited.

The coming year appears to be full of promise indeed. The rapid development and release of technology last year is rapidly being picked up by open source developers all over the world and is already starting to pay dividends in terms of better performance and functionality. 2005 will be very interesting to watch.

The Best and Worst of 2004

This issue of Linux.Ars is a special one. We bring you the best (and worst) of 2004 in the Linux and Open Source community. Unlike certain other sites, we've tried to bring you a sensible meaning of fairness, so we asked the Linux Kung Fu (http://episteme.arstechnica.com/eve/ubb.x?a=tpc&s=50009562&f=96509133&m=323003038631) forum their thoughts on some categories that are relevant to the open source world. Our hope was to bring you a non-biased view of current events in the Linux world. We hope that this gives support to those who deserve it and motivates others to improve.

The voting was of course a field of great contention, but we feel that the results reflect the diverse opinions of a very original and passionate community here at Ars. So, without further ado, let's take a look at who garnered the acclaim and who was just lame.

Contributor of the Year

This is the individual who has made the biggest contribution to the Linux Community, resources, advocacy, and code. This category is not developer specific. It can be any person, but it has to be one individual.

As you can well imagine, this was one of the most contentious fields in the poll. In a world where anyone can contribute and make a difference, the possibilities for this category are broad and opinions are bound to be strong. True to form, the LKF community came up with a tie on this issue.

Winners: Andrew Morton (http://www.zipworld.com.au/~akpm/) and Keith Packard (http://keithp.com/)

Andrew Morton is the maintainer for the 2.6 kernel series, and has done an absolutely fantastic job of steering kernel development since 2.6 was released in December of 2003. Andrew has arguably made the most significant impact to the maturity of Linux over the last calendar year.

Keith Packard is one of the most notable developers of the X Window system, and earlier this year led the move to fork away from XFree86 and now develops for X.org (http://www.x.org) and freedesktop.org (http://www.freedesktop.org/), both of whom have contributed to significant advances on the Linux desktop in 2004. Recent additions such as Composite rendering and Damage extensions, while still at an early stage, are showing serious promise for improvement in the quality of the Linux desktop.

Best Community

We picked the community best reputed for its contributions, user friendliness, resource richness, balanced advocacy and quality of code released.

The user community is one of the greatest attractions for many users. When you have the ability to interact with thousands of other users, many of whom tend to be vocal, problems are often aired and fixed quickly. A good community can make or break a project, as we'll no doubt see.

Winner: The Ubuntu Linux forums (http://www.ubuntuforums.org).

Ubuntu broke onto the scene in October of the year, and a forum for user issues was started soon afterwards. It was quickly adopted as the official Ubuntu forums, and provides fantastic resources, from a well-maintained FAQ section to an active support forum for the development branch, as well as mailing list integration. The developers are very active in the community, and the overall tone is friendly and helpful.

An honorable mention goes to the Gentoo forum community. One of the most active communities on the web, this forum has probably had the question you're thinking about asking already answered. Twice. In six different languages.

Distribution of the Year

We picked the distribution that best showed a combination of stability, openness, security and user friendliness.

Most distributions put out at least one release a year to keep up with changes in technology and occasionally philosophy. The success of a new release can often be gauged quickly from the reaction of established users. The good ones draw out the veterans and often manage to scrape up some enthusiasm from the crusty barnacles of entrenched tradition. This year, the winner did this and more.

Winner: Ubuntu Linux (http://www.ubuntulinux.org).

Ubuntu started with a bang in October with the first stable release of a distribution based on Debian but with the aim to deliver a regular, stable and security-supported snapshot of the best of the open source world. The practical upshot of this was a modernized Debian with a strong emphasis on the GNOME desktop, but the ability to customize the distribution however you see fit. Updates happen often in the development branch, and the distribution has a community feel and a polish that seems rare in other distributions.

Desktop Application of the Year

Forumgoers chose the best desktop application, regardless of desktop environment, taking into account usability, functionality, documentation and stability.

When it comes to applications on your machine, there are some you never touch. I don't think I've used Floppy Formatter . . . ever. But there are those applications that are always open, possibly consigned to workspace 4, but always open because they're integral to your workflow or just not worth closing since you're going to open them again in about 5 seconds. And there's always just that one program that you feel rocks out with indie-level power.

Winner: Mozilla Firefox (http://www.mozilla.org/firefox).

This category was dominated by Firefox, which reached a 1.0 release on November 9th after several years of development and several name changes. Firefox has become the poster child and banner-bearer for the OSS community, and is probably the most visible project overall. By being easily customizable and extendable, Firefox has garnered support on multiple platforms and has also been the recipient of critical support from the industry as well as numerous press sources. With this kind of momentum, the future has to look very bright indeed for the members of the Firefox community.

Server Application of the Year

This is the system administrator's choice of the most indispensable server application and open-ended.

Server apps are the backbone of most other applications. Let's face it, without high-quality server applications, things like blogs and forums wouldn't work even half as well as they do. Databases, communications tools, administration - without these little miracles, we wouldn't be having half the fun we already are.

Winner: PostgreSQL (http://www.postgres.org).

Databases are wonderful things, and very adaptable to different functions. It's rare for any kind of sizable organization to not use a database for anything, and to that end, PostgreSQL provides a very reliable solution for Linux users. Sporting many advanced features missing from other available database packages, PostgreSQL is a perennial favorite for many of our developers.

Web Application of the Year

We asked forumgoers to choose the best web application or development framework of the year.

Web-based applications provide interaction for all users regardless of platform or location. If you can connect to the web, you can use it. Forums, blogs, administration tools, collaboration frameworks, there were many excellent options this year to choose from.

Winner: WordPress (http://wordpress.org).

Let's face it. Blogs are in fashion, and why not? Vanity knows no bounds, and there are some people who actually do something productive with theirs. From the influence of blogs on the coverage of the US Presidential elections to every random teenager who has problems with their partner/parent/teacher/cat, blogs are out there allowing your most intimate feelings to be shared with random people at wifi hotspots. WordPress is the most prominent rising star of weblog software, completely free and with a large and active community. Styles, plugins and hacks are readily available, with problems such as comment spamming being addressed far more rapidly than competing applications.

Development Application of the Year

Forumgoers judged ease of use, documentation, maturity of tools and ease of deployment.

Those magical programs facilitate the creativity flow from the hands of the programmers. A good development application or framework allows someone with an idea and some know-how to do his part to change how people interact with their data.

Winner: Mono (http://www.go-mono.com).

The Mono Project develops a common language runtime environment and development tools that aim to conform with Microsoft's .NET framework. The pace of Mono's development and maturation as a platform has been very rapid and has encouraged the creation of a plethora of tools and applications targeting the Mono runtime and built with the Mono development toolset. It has made the language C# increasingly popular for rapid application development (http://arstechnica.com/columns/linux/linux-20040715.ars) on Linux. Additionally, development tools such as MonoDevelop (http://arstechnica.com/columns/linux/linux-20040805.ars/1) have been written and continue to improve rapidly to provide the closest thing to an ideal RAD environment for Linux.

Hardware Vendor of the Year

This is LKF's choice for the hardware company that is commendable for going out of its way to properly support the community.

Hardware support can be a tricky issue for many of us. Some of the most popular hardware does not have great support under Linux, so we need to recognize those vendors who do step up and deliver when they do. This year's winner did so handily, and is a vital link in the continued development of the Linux desktop.

Winner: NVIDIA (http://www.nvidia.com).

NVIDIA is always a source of debate in the community. One the one hand, their drivers are some of the best available for video hardware and are well-supported by almost every distribution. On the other hand, they have steadfastly refused to open the source on their drivers, releasing closed binary drivers that many feel are not in alignment with the philosophy of Linux. But for many of us, NVIDIA is the only choice for Linux when it comes to high-performance video and gaming.

Online Publication of the Year

This category represents the best online resource for the LKF.

Online publications allow for the quickest turnaround time on information and have become invaluable resources for keeping on the cutting edge of technology. Our own beloved Ars Technica ranks among the best, but let's see which one took the fancy of our voters.

Winner: Linux Weekly News (http://www.lwn.net).

LWN started out as Linux Weekly News but has expanded to cover more than just a weekly summary of the Linux world. Their coverage includes a daily roundup of development headlines from across the industry, not to mention their always excellent weekly news roundups, as well as articles and premium content which is only available through a subscription model. LWN is one of those rare sites where the price of admission is justified nicely.

Dead-Tree Publication of the Year

This is the choice for best printed magazine or journal.

There's nothing like curling up with a book or magazine to pass some time. While the internet is often touted as the balm to all the ailments of man, it doesn't necessarily make for quality bathroom reading. And I don't care how many LKF members succumb to the siren song of Fujitsu-Siemens' Lifebook P series notebooks, they aren't as good to curl up in bed with.

Winner: Knoppix Hacks (http://www.oreilly.com/catalog/knoppixhks/).

A homegrown winner! This book was written by our own Kyle "greenfly" Rankin who consistently turns out quality answers to questions. You can't find a nicer guy and you can't find a more useful book. Knoppix Hacks contains dozens of useful tools for system maintenance, hardware checking, and emergency recovery tools and comes with a copy of the bootable CD distribution itself. So here are hearty congratulations to one of our own.

Best Newcomer to the Community

This category represents the most prominent new program, company, or individual contributor to the community.

Innovation is always looked for, whether it be in a new project, or someone finding a new and better way to do any given job. We look to recognize players who have come to the table this year with the new or improved.

Winner: Ubuntu (http://www.ubunutulinux.org).

So much has been said about Ubuntu that it should be apparently that it's something special. By attempting to create a single distribution with a tweaked desktop, Project Utopia and a multicultural approach, Ubuntu has come close to being the Holy Grail of Linux for many of us. Ubuntu handily dominated this category, managing to unite a diverse group of voters rather effectively.

Most Improved in the Community

This is similar to the previous category except that it can cover any program, company, or individual.

Sometimes it doesn't matter what you brought to the game to start with. There is always room for improvement and occasionally a group manages to pull together in such a significant way to make you completely forgive or at least forget any previous awfulness.

Winner: Novell (http://www.novell.com).

Novell has long been a fixture in the IT community, but this year they managed to dive headfirst into the Linux field and produced a lot of excitement. From their acquisition of SuSE, their managing of the Ximian project, and continued development on projects like iFolder, Novell has really turned on the awesome, and we look forward to seeing their continued progress in the year to come. Oh, and iFolder. Did I mention iFolder? iFolder.

Most Anticipated Application

This represents the drool-worthy technology that you won't be able to live without once it hits prime time. The category covers all bases desktop, server, or web side.

High-profile and sometimes very promising technologies emerge and sometimes they become vaporware. The following is the most anticipated application this year.

Winner: Beagle (http://www.gnome.org/projects/beagle/).

Beagle is a desktop search tool that indexes your data in real time (as files are created and modified) and allows you to very quickly look up information that you need. Pervasive realtime indexing and search will be the killer app of the future.

Thumbs Down

This category is for the downers the open-source community members that disappoint. We disqualified the mundane "Microsoft" and "SCO" votes. We're talking about people pretending to walk the walk; this is a "wake-up call".

This is my favorite part of the awards, where we all hunch our shoulders, crack our collective knuckles, and glare disapprovingly at the entity which has raised the most ire for the LKF community through the year. Raise your shovels high, everyone, and prepare for Righteous Bludgeoning Action.

"Winner" - ATI Technologies (http://www.atitech.ca).

Oh yeah. ATI. Anyone who's tried getting the fglrx drivers working correctly with all the options you want knows the pain we're talking about. The drivers are woefully inadequate considering the quality of available drivers from NVIDIA and Matrox (yes, that Matrox). There are some of us who choose to refer to ATI cards as "three-hundred dollar paperweights" and it's not entirely unjust. ATI may make a stellar piece of hardware, but with the available resources and demand for the software, there is simply no excuse to claim that you have Linux support and then churn out drivers that are so completely awful. So for ATI ladies and gentlemen, let's get it together.

Honorable Mention -- #debian on irc.freenode.org

It was interesting to see that the #debian channel on Freenode was able to take second place in our "Thumbs Down" category. This group of people has managed to turn around many potential Debian and Linux newbies from test driving Debian, or Linux in general. For all their claims to be about Debian support, they have the least inclusive and most unfriendly attitude on the planet. There are several people who are good with *nix who have turned down Debian as an option just based on the reaction of #debian regulars to their support questions.

Conclusion

We didn't have many surprises. Ubuntu Linux had a huge turnout owing to its raging popularity on the desktop. It is like Debian, but unlike the Debian Project, Canonical appears to actually get things done. The distribution is targeted squarely at the desktop without all the political red tape in which the Debian Project seems to have wrapped itself.

The year 2004 has seen a plethora of improvements in Linux. Prominently, many of these have been on the desktop. This has been desperately needed. We'd like to send out a big thank you to everyone who has participated in the development effort and another great thank you to everyone who makes Linux users' life a little better. Have a great new year.

/dev/random

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