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Leading items and editorials

And so the year comes to the close. And what a year! 2000 stands out for highs and lows for Linux and Free Software. This is the time of year when we take a step back and try to get an overall perspective, as well as some guesses as to what lies ahead. For those of you interested in previous such efforts, feel free to check out the end-of-year coverage from 1999 and 1998 as well.

Also along the same lines, if you haven't yet checked out the year 2000 LWN Timeline, now is your chance. Note that this is a work in progress; comments and feedback from our readers is essential in order to complete the timeline. Reader contributions are kept in a log, so credit will be given where due. A final version of the Timeline will be released in early January.

What were the major trends for Linux and Open Source/Free Software in 2000? Using a broad rule of thumb, we searched for repeating themes that came up virtually every month and found five of them:

  • Commercial companies releasing software as Open Source/Free Software. Examples can be found each and every month. Some of the most notable include Sun's release of Star Office under the GPL, IBM's release of AFS, SashXB and and the Jikes Java compiler, TRG's release of the NWFS 2.2 NetWare file system, Inprise's release of the InterBase database, and SGI's release of OpenGL, along with C, C+ and Fortran compilers for the IA-64 architecture, to provide only a few examples.

    A corollary of this plan was the tendency of Open Source development projects to become tightly tied to a single commercial entity. Following older examples, such as the tie between sendmail and Sendmail, Inc., Zope and Digital Creations, this year PostgreSQL gained Great Bridges as a sponsor. The Python team moved en masse, first to BeOpen, and later to Digital Creations. Perhaps most strikingly, the release of MySQL under the GPL license (its former license was not completely Free) was pushed primarily by commercial considerations. Companies were lining up to become strategic partners to the MySQL development, but wanted to see the GPL used to protect their interests.

  • Increased international presence. Not only is business booming overseas, which is easily visible both commercially and in the vibrancy of international contributions to development projects, but governments outside of the US have been notably interested in, and voicing support for, the Open Source content. Some striking examples include the Chinese government's interest in and support of Linux (January 2000), the integration of Open Source into plans to improve the European software industry (February 2000), a proposed French law requiring open standards and the availability of source code for software used by the government (April 2000), and the strong stance in support of Open Source by Siegmar Mosdorf, German Secretary of State in the Federal Ministry for Economy and Technology (July 2000).

    Of course, to provide a counter-example of the potential dangers when governments get involved, Poland taxed a commercial company for its use of Open Source software, contending that it must be accounted for as a donation. That is one trend that we hope not to see repeated!

  • Patents. We've hammered on this issue so much this year that we'll tread lightly for now. However, the RTLinux patent, the Amazon patent on its affiliate program, Microsoft's successful enforcement of its patent on the Active Stream file format against the VirtualDub (GPL'd) project and the latest, British Telecom's suit against Prodigy for violation of, essentially, a patent on the concept of a "link", stand out as infamous examples.

    On the up-side, the European Patent Convention voted in November against legitimizing software patents, at least for now.

  • Mergers and Acquisitions. Never a month went by without the announcement of new mergers and acquisitions. Lineo took the lead with multiple acquisitions, including Zentropix, Use Inc., Moreton Bay, INUP, Fireplug and RT-Control. Other notable mergers/acquisition include VA Linux and Andover.net (completed in 2000), Walnut Creek and BSDi, and LinuxMall.com's trips to the altar, first with Frank Kaspar and Associates and later EBIZ. Red Hat also went on a buying spree, picking up Hell's Kitchens, BlueCurve, C2Net and, most notably, Cygnus (whereby they acquired their current CTO, Michael Tiemann). Of course, a couple of other hard-to-forget joinings: first, SCO and Caldera and second, Sun and Cobalt. Not a comprehensive list, by any means.

    That's just the commercial world, of course. Mergers happen outside the business world as well, such as the merger of the Linux Standard Base (LSB) and Linux Internationalization Initiative (LI18NUX) (May 2000), which resulted in the formation of a new entity, the Free Standards Group.

  • Planned or filed IPOs that didn't happen. If you look back at our predictions for the year 2000, this is one area where our attempts (and most everyone else's) at predicting the future failed. At the beginning of 2000, we looked forward to a boatload of Linux-related IPOs. Instead, only a few successful IPOs actually happened over the past year (Caldera, Lineo). The trend we found was actually more a story of planned or announced IPOs that never happened. Linuxcare's IPO was announced, then cancelled. LinuxFund announced an IPO, but never filed. Rackspace.com actually filed its IPO, but has been quiet ever since. An imaginary visit to the board rooms of many private companies would find many more IPO plans now littering the wastebaskets.

    Corresponding to the failed IPOs was the first layoffs in Linux-related companies. In May, 2000, we saw both 35% of Linuxcare's staff laid off and, in addition, almost the entire staff of Wide Open News, Red Hat's attempt at a Linux news service. Wide Open still exists, of course, but no longer produces original content.

Well, aside from those constant trends, there were a few successes that stood out above the rest. For our choice, we would look at the relaxation of US Cryptography rules as one of those successes. This was a critical need; the security-hardening of Linux has blossomed as a result, though of course, still more work remains to be done.

Note that the change mentioned above is political in nature and could be just as easily reversed. On the legal front, a good step forward was made in April, when the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit published its decision regarding Peter Junger's challenge to the Export Administration Regulations which prevented him from posting information on the Internet that contained cryptographic example code. Most critical in the ruling: "Because computer source code is an expressive means for the exchange of information and ideas about computer programming, we hold that it is protected by the First Amendment." If this verdict holds, it should provide a more solid ground for the safety of cryptographic development in the US, as well as a wonderful precedent for future software- and freedom-related lawsuits.

VA Linux's Sourceforge must stand out as another notable success. Announced in January, Sourceforge has grown to host over 12,000 software development projects, all of them Free/Open Source. That is estimated to be over 75% of the "free software universe". Although we wish them the best, we'll reiterate our stance in favor of competition and hope to see a staunch Free Software advocate or two come out with a comparable system in the coming year.

Some major development milestones we'd like to celebrate: XFree86 4.0, KDE 2.0, Perl 5.6.0, PHP 4.0, PostgreSQL 7.0, Gnucash 1.4, Python 1.6 and 2.0, and Netscape 6 (the first based on Mozilla). Some exciting products not yet to a stable release included Helix Code's Evolution and Eazel's Nautilus, both exciting projects for the future of the desktop. Don't shoot us for leaving out the other 99% -- this edition would never have made it out the door.

Now for the hard part. What will the next year bring? Well, we'll refrain from any attempt to predict the overall economic health of the US or any other country in the world. Nonetheless, we will predict that Free Software and the value of the concepts behind it will weather both good news and bad. In the midst of a massive loss of value for Linux stocks on the NASDAQ exchange, IBM announced plans to pour a billion US dollars into Linux next year and more billions of dollars over the years to come. Dell has announced major commitments to the Linux platform. All of the major software companies out there are focused on Linux and Free Software, no longer as a get-rich trick, but as an essential part of their business plan.

Do heavy investments from the big companies presage the end or failure of small Linux-based companies? Highly unlikely. Just as the success of Microsoft spawned many small companies looking to make money off of integration, add-ons, support, etc., the heavy use of Linux and Open Source at IBM, HP, Compaq, Dell and, dare we say, Sun, will produce a fertile field for small companies. That arena will be particularly fertile because Open Source protects the rights and opportunities of all comers, providing natural obstacles to monopolies. Correspondingly though, the likelihood of one of those small companies growing large enough to push the entrenched beasts out of the field is much less likely.

What else, then, will next year bring? Continued progress on the desktop. We're not ready to plan for a victory celebration in 2001, though. A lot of work remains to be done to provide all the tools that desktop customers need and want, particularly tools that meet our standards: full-featured, high-performance and robust. We must not only match our competitors but exceed them.

Continued growth within corporate business plans. When times are tight and people are examining the bottom line carefully, the long-term advantage of using Free Software will shine. More and more companies will also see the legal advantage of Open Source. It will help protect them from lawsuits based on the number of copies of a piece of software they may be using. It will protect them from increasing software costs. It will provide a safe environment for collaboration and cooperation between companies, for strategic partnerships and more. We'll take another step down the road towards becoming a ubiquitous part of "how things are done".

More mergers and acquisitions. The reality is that many companies are not yet making a profit. The new business climate demands that they do so, or at least clearly chart how quickly they are going to get there. Companies that cannot do one or the other will be looking either at failure or a sale. Given those options, sales will be much more popular. Of course, the prices we'll be seeing won't match the types of sales and acquisitions we saw during the IPO boom; bargain-basement prices are much more likely, particularly for companies that are not yet in the black.

A lot of fun. It hasn't stopped being fun yet. That's an important part of this community. So this isn't a prediction so much as a wish; let the fun continue forever (even if we can't predict its form!).

Inside this week's Linux Weekly News:

  • Security: So what was different in 2000? NSA Security-Enhanced Linux, 9 new vulnerability reports, 10 distribution updates.
  • Kernel: Development versions of gcc encouraged for debugging, dirty buffers get cleaned up, wait queues and semaphores, oh my!
  • Distributions: Linux Mandrake donates to the Free Software Foundation, Lunar Penguin bites the dust, The First Annual PPC/Linux Community Awards.
  • Development: A Mozilla Project Roadmap, KDE & Gnome interoperability, XHTML
  • Commerce: Red Hat unveils SID, Jabber integrated into PocketLinux, Loki's Myth II reviewed.
  • Back page: Linux links, this week in Linux history, and letters to the editor
...plus the usual array of reports, updates, and announcements.

This Week's LWN was brought to you by:

December 28, 2000


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