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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:
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!).
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December 28, 2000