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The State of Linux: Review of 2003, Predictions for 2004

Linux predictions for 2004 continue to flood in from readers

Well, it’s the end of the 2003 and the start of 2004, so I guess it’s time to do the traditional combination of a retrospective and a look forward.

It’s been an eventful year in the Linux world, but probably not for all the reasons we’d all like. Undoubtedly it’s been yet another year of great advancements of Linux, particularly on the desktop, but the ongoing work on the server shouldn’t be ignored either. With tools like KDE, Gnome, OpenOffice and others maturing this year, there’s no doubt that people are beginning to notice Linux more as a potential replacement for Windows.

In the backroom, more companies are beginning to see Linux as more of an official solution to their problems, than a toy OS that the geeks use when the bosses aren’t looking. We’ve already got companies like IBM, Sun and Dell selling Linux on hardware as a solution, not an add-on, and grid computing and render farms - like the one used to produce the Sinbad films which ran on HP hardware - are becoming more common.

It’s also been a year of changes, as companies change their focus from Linux as a one-for-all solution and start to change their offerings and company to reflect Linux in different arenas. Red Hat obviously springs to mind here with its recent Enterprise/Fedora approach, but we’ve seen similar changes in other distributions too.

On the downside, the most significant story that has rocked the entire community is the launch by SCO of an attack against the validity and legality of Linux itself. It’s going to take months, if not years, for all the issues surrounding this accusation to finally come to a conclusion. However, I don’t doubt for a second that five years from now, we’ll all be asking each other “So where were you when the SCO story broke?” (in the US, at Microsoft, before you ask).

Looking forward, what can we expect in the New Year?

Well, Linux Kernel 2.6 is the next big step for Linux. But what else can we expect? At LinuxWorld Magazine we decided to go round and ask luminaries from the industry, including Eric S Raymond and John Terpstra. We also thought it would be interesting to ask everyday Linux users for their opinions.

A selection of individual responses are included below for you to read through, but it’s clear reading through these summaries that there are some common threads:

  • Linux on the desktop will see a significant increase this year, largely fueled (it seems) by an increase in office software and business applications. But some believe only at the corporate, not home user end of the market.
  • Gaming will bring Linux to the fore as a serious entertainment platform.
  • Nearly all the distributions will see an increase, depending I guess on which one you like using.
  • Mandrake looks ripe for a takeover, especially now Novell has legitimized SUSE.
  • Embedded Linux - particularly in handheld devices, mobile phones, and set top boxes - will see an increase in use and more importantly acknowledgement.

Of course, if you want the really important questions answered, particularly about Tux’s amorous adventures, then you need to read through the rest of the responses… The full results will be appearing in the January issue of LinuxWorld Magazine.



Which Linux application area do you believe will grow the fastest in 2004?

Would love to say home desktop with more games, but don't think this is that likely yet. Most likely enterprise area will continue to grow the fastest. (Matthew Johnson)

Open Office will make Bill Gates cry a lot in 2004. It will take at least half of MSOffice's share. (Marcel Leal)

Conventional, but probably true answer: servers. There are still many companies running standard services like mail, web etc. on proprietary operating systems (Sun, Microsoft) in a time where it makes no whatsoever sense anymore. With kernel 2.6, Linux will gain acceptance as a high-end Unix replacement and be deployed wherever older server installations need to be replaced. (Florian Cramer)

Localized apps. Both GTK (using Pango) and QT and OpenOffice.org have quite decent support for complex and far eastern languages, and the translation projects are also speeding up, so I would not be surprised many governments, especially in Asian countries switching over to GNU/Linux based systems in 2004. Localized apps are of great importance in these areas. (Sayamindu Dasgupta)


Will 2004 finally be the year when Linux makes significant in-roads on the desktop?

Yes, with OpenOffice.org looking so nice it is inevitable. (Jascha W.)

Corporate desktop - yes - ordinary home user - no. (Sayamindu Dasgupta)

Yes. But only in corporate environments. Of course, would like to see a major manufacturer starting to show real interest in marketing and selling a Linux based desktop solution, however this may indeed happen outside the USA. (Matthew Johnson)

No. The desktop UI is still too inconsistent across KDE/Qt, Gnome/GTK, Mozilla/XUL and Openoffice and still offers no viable alternative to the commandline when it comes to system administration/configuration. (Florian Cramer)

Yes, but not for the average user. The revolution will start inside government computing, like in Brazil, Germany and Asia. As soon as government staff sees what Linux can do, they'll move to it. (Marcel Leal)


Which distributions will show the greatest growth in 2004?

Might be Novell/SUSE if they decide to keep SUSE going pretty much they have been, albeit with Novell's distribution outlets and well known name. (Matthew Johnson)

Fedora/Debian. (Sayamindu Dasgupta)

SuSe, thanks to Novell's user network, or Mandrake because it is so easy for beginners and Windows users - actually, they're the same thing.  (Marcel Leal)

Has to be SuSE with Novell's money behind it. With both Ximian and SuSE they can make a run at the Linux from desktop to server approach. With the help ($) of IBM. (Jascha W.)

Contrary to what Eric S. Raymond says: The unclear situations of Red Hat/Fedora and SuSE (after it has been bought by Novell) could create a strong push towards Debian as the standard binary (GNU/)Linux distribution. The Debian core distribution could become a de facto replacement of the disappointing "Linux Standards Base (LSB)" as more and more (commercial and community) distributions will be Debian based. Knoppix, Lindows and, in the near future, UserLinux are prime examples. Debian itself will gain more acceptance in the mainstream and among new users as soon as it will ship with the new installer. (Florian Cramer)


What major Linux IPO or Linux acquisition will occur in 2004?

If the Novell/SUSE deal goes through maybe HP will invest money into the venture (Matthew Johnson)

Since all commercial Linux developing companies seem to have been bought up by either Red Hat or Novell, I don't expect very much to happen in this field. Remaining possibilities: Novell gets bought up by Sun because it owns several core providers of Sun's desktop and Linux offerings (as Mad Hatter is based on SuSE and Ximian provides important parts of Sun's Gnome desktop), the Mozilla project gets bought up by Red Hat. Or Red Hat gets bought up by Sun. (Florian Cramer)

IBM will just go ahead and buy Novell the rest of the way. Or Sun will have to do something to stay afloat. Being that many Sun shops are moving over to i386/Linux for cost savings. For the half a million it costs for a 4800 Sun you can buy a truckload of Dell, IBM, or HP servers. (Jascha W.)


What will be the coolest new Linux application in 2004?

Firebird, the nicest browser I ever used. And it will get even better when it reaches 2.0...! (Marcel Leal)

The Freedesktop.org Xserver with all its fancy extensions. (Sayamindu Dasgupta)

Seriously, the GNU/Linux system itself - because it will be increasingly deployed in appliance-type computer installations, i.e. as self-built routers, WLAN access points, digital video recorders, home audio servers and the like. In parallel, consumer all-in-one solutions running Linux internally will be much more common and gain mass success because they're cheap. They will also create more GPL enforcement trouble as the Linksys case shows. What could be the coolest new GNU/Linux application in the more narrow sense of a software package would be a beginner-friendly system that maps the shell/Unix commandline tool enviroment graphically on the desktop, where each tool is an icon with an option box for all switches and pipes can be drawn with the mouse between them. (Florian Cramer)

EverQuest!! Seriously, don't think there will be just one cool app, just lots of smal cool applications that make up the whole. (Matthew Johnson)

The coolest app that would appeal to me would be a desktop publishing application that could do the job of FrameMaker, most especially its ability to do detailed, dimensionally exact layout on multi-page tables of unlimited size. Scribus and Kword are headed in that direction, but weren't there the last time I checked. Will one of them cross the threshold in 2004, and become an industrial-strength engineering documentation tool? Maybe. (Jack Carroll)


Will the SCO debacle slow Linux adoption over the next year?

Probably did for the first six months, but doubt it is having as much affect anymore. (Matthew Johnson)

Perhaps in corporate enviroments which are reluctant anyway to deploy free software. One can only hope that the SCO annoyance will go away fast and not proceed in an endless lawsuit taking up several years and an endless FUD mill. Or, that both community and mainstream media get sick of SCO and simply ignore the company's ramblings as lunatic fringe. (Florian Cramer)


Will Tux finally get a girlfriend?

Yeap. He will be seem many times with Lara Croft, but at the end, he'll announce his wedding with top model Gosele Bundchen. (Marcel Leal)

Maybe - but it certainly won't be Microsoft.  (Sayamindu Dasgupta)

NOOOO! He is too much of a 'player' for that! After all, many a geek lives vicariously through his exploits (no pun intended). (Joscha W.)

More Stories By Martin C. Brown

Martin C. Brown is a former IT director with experience in cross-platform integration. A keen developer, he has produced dynamic sites for blue-chip customers, including HP and Oracle, and is the technical director of Foodware.net. Now a freelance writer and consultant, MC, as he is better known, works closely with Microsoft as an SME; has a regular column on both ServerWatch.com and IBM's DeveloperWorks Grid Computing site; is a core member of the AnswerSquad.com team; and has written books such as XML Processing with Perl, Python and PHP, and the Microsoft IIS 6 Delta Guide.

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