FOSS: How Did 2009 Shape Up?

Another year goes by without the "Year of the Linux Desktop" (whatever that means) but that doesn't mean that Free software is standing still. What highlights have there been over the last year and what is still holding us back?

More and more third party applications are starting to package versions for various distributions. In November 2008 Adobe released the first Alpha version of a native closed source 64bit Flash client for Linux. With over 13 months passing since however, the year 2009 did not present us with a stable version. This is another aspect which keeps Linux a second class citizen on the net, something which could be entirely bypassed if websites used open formats for multimedia content.

This past year has seen a hotbed of activity in the web browser sphere, with the major release of Firefox 3.5 (formerly to be 3.2). This offered a myriad of improvements over version 3.0 from one year earlier. Google’s Chrome browser has recently finally seen an official version for the Linux desktop, although it is still in beta form. The adoption of browsers like Firefox on all platforms worldwide helps to make the Linux desktop more attractive, as it is generally the default choice and lowers the bar for migration.

One subtle new change which created lots of angst was the disabling of the CTRL+ALT+Backspace shortcut key to kill X. This was a change made in upstream X.Org, which naturally filtered down to the distributions. The rationale was that new users might inadvertently kill the user interface by not knowing what the shortcut does. It can be easily re-enabled via a setting in the configuration file, but the new X.Org configures everything on the fly now and doesn’t use a configuration file by default.

Almost two years since the infamous 4.0 release, the KDE 4 desktop has reached a stage where it is suitable for average users this past year. Development has continued at an astronomical rate, with 4.3 version fixing over 10,000 bugs and implementing almost 2,000 feature requests since the previous release. It is by no means yet complete, with stable versions of various important packages such as K3b still missing (but on the way).

One of the greatest user experience enhancements in KDE has been openSUSE’s integration of Firefox into the desktop, which is most impressive and long overdue. Most major KDE based distributions have now made the switch to the new version and next year the situation should continue to improve.

The Outlook

Overall, the Linux desktop is advancing nicely and on the whole, distributions are continuing to make outstanding releases. GNOME continues with solid, stable releases while the more adventurous KDE 4 has recently become stable enough to use as an everyday desktop.

Linux is also getting more coverage these days, with recommendations to use it for Internet banking instead of Windows. Companies like Dell are also starting to sell more machines with Linux. Household name Google has released their Linux based Chromium operating system, with plans for consumer devices next year.

2009 has been a decent year with solid enhancements, but there are still several core component lacking on the desktop Linux front. Will these be addressed in 2010? It remains to be seen..

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