As the year 2016 draws nearer to a close, I would like to offer some thoughts about the last year in Linux and maybe even dare to make a few predictions for 2017. Please do keep in mind that nothing I say herein is based in any hard fact but rather comes from my own perceptions, hearsay and conjecture on my part. Do with them what you will and feel free to disagree at any point along the way.
2016 started full of hope for Linux fans but those hopes were dashed when the much anticipated Ubuntu 16.04 and Fedora 24 landed chocked full of bugs and driver issues. Some of us who follow these things closely expressed dismay over the problems encountered by users. A few bug-a-boos are to be expected in new releases, but these were big Vietnamese Hissing Cockroach-sized bugs that turned out to be show stoppers for some users.
Canonical, the keepers of Ubuntu, seemed to spend more time worrying about phones and integrating Bash into Windows 10 than putting out a stable Long Term Support (LTS) desktop release. Canonical’s Ubuntu team did fix many of those issues and it is now almost as stable as the much-lauded 14.04 release. Most are happy with Ubuntu now or have moved on to greener pastures. ‘Nuff said.
There were no huge innovations to speak of nor were there any major victories this last Linux year but a lot of little things have happened to make one feel confident that Linux will be even better in 2017. Fedora 25, just released a couple of weeks ago, has improved on 24 with lots of speed and it’s the first distro to ship with the snazzy new Wayland display manager turned on by default. Ubuntu has promised Unity 8 and maybe even their own Mir Display Manager will land in Ubuntu 17.04. That would mean a huge change for Ubuntu, not the least of which is a move from a GTK to a QT-based desktop. We shall see how that goes. Ubuntu is also leading development of the distro-agnostic Snappy Package format and that is coming along nicely. A universal way to get pre-packaged software onto a Linux system will make Linux friendlier for developers and users alike.
Oh, as for why I am focusing on Ubuntu and Fedora here… It’s because the rest of the Linux Ecosystem pretty much follows their lead. Aside from, Arch and OpenSUSE, most of the myriad of other distros out there are based on Ubuntu or the Red Hat/CentOS/Fedora family.
Then there is Solus.
Solus has been around for awhile now. It really came into its own in the last year, though. Ikey Doherty and his merry band of developers have worked hard to come up with something that is completely new. Solus features its very own Budgie desktop environment. Budgie is kind of like a minimalist’s vision of what Gnome 3 set out to be. What really sets Solus apart is the fact that’s it’s not based on any other Linux distro, not even a little bit. Solus is built from the ground up with cleaner code and a new vision of what an OS should be like for its users. Most of the popular apps are already available and more are being added all the time. Solus bares close watching in 2017. It may be your next Linux distribution of choice.
Linux users used to be able to pop up to the local Big Box Store and snag a cheap PC off the shelf. They’d take that home and then proceed to destroy all traces of the virus known as Windows and happily install whatever flavor of Linux they wanted to. With the rise of Secure Boot and UEFI in place of the old familiar BIOS, that has become more challenging in the last year than ever. Some OEMs have committed the ability to disable Secure Boot or make it very difficult for all but the most tech savvy users. This is a pain for folks like me who help others get Linux going. And a significant barrier to folks who want to give Linux a whirl.
The bright side is that there are now many different companies selling nice machines that come preloaded with Linux. No need to pay for a proprietary OS license just to dump it anymore and you can boot up the machine, add your account and start using it. Folks who buy machines with Windows and Mac OS usually don’t have to go through the process of installing from scratch. Historically, installing from scratch was how most folks got started with Linux. Now that Linux hardware is abundant and easily obtainable at reasonable prices it can do nothing but bode well for the future of Linux on the desktop.
It could very well be argued that most folks don’t need a traditional Laptop or Desktop PC anymore. A lot of folks get what they want to get done done on tablets and smartphones. That’s fine with me because those who want to develop, create or tightly control their privacy in cyberspace will always gravitate to more sophisticated hardware to get the job done. Linux is the logical choice for these kinds of folks because it is fast becoming the only economically and ethically viable system for serious users.
APPLE AND MICROSOFT PUSH USERS TO LINUX! (Yes, really!)
Let’s start with MS, shall we? Windows 10 is a disaster for MS and between the numerous bugs and crashes and the fact that MS is using the OS as a platform to spy on its user base, even the most die-hard Windows folks are getting fed up. I have been surprised to hear many Windows Fanboys who would laugh at Linux and miss no opportunity to publicly deride those of us who use Linux say with just as much gusto that they will never, ever use Windows 10. This leaves them in a bad place because Windows 7 and 8 are obviously a dead end. MS is adamant about moving everyone to Win 10 and there is even evidence out there that they have crippled older-than-10 installs that screw up the systems, forcing users to either upgrade or buy a new PC. Don’t believe me? Look it up for yourself.
I’ve heard some Windows folks say that they’re going to dump their PCs in favor of a Mac and I would have felt like that was an improvement in the past. The only problem is that Apple, too, is making moves that are raising eyebrows among long-time Mac users. One good friend of mine who has been a staunch Mac supporter for years is now so disgusted that he’s seriously looking at Linux to replace all of his macs.
The latest crop of hardware from Apple comes with a lack of standard connectors. Users find themselves having to buy a bunch of dongles just to do what they have already been doing and on top of that Apple has imposed “End Of Life” on many older Macs. Since Mac OS is inexorably tied to Apple hardware and the prices are exorbitant when compared to comparable PC’s of the same caliber, it would seem that the walls are closing in on Mac people. This would also seem to validate my sneaking suspicion that Walled Gardens might be pretty to look at and fun to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.
Linux is becoming a more attractive alternative than ever. I welcome all of these poor souls who come to Linux for shelter from the storm and I hope you will too. They will need your help and mine.
LINUX: STILL A HOUSE DIVIDED
All of this encouraging stuff is fine but one thing that I have found over the last year is that the Linux Community is still filled with folks who just don’t know how to get along with other folks. The divisions are just as wide as ever and it makes us all look bad to anyone looking in from the outside. The comments on my social media are generally positive but there are enough negative ones to be a concern to me. Those comments range from the idiotic to violent enough to be scary. Any YouTube creator or blog writer who offers anything controversial, even just declaring a personal distaste for one desktop environment over another, subjects themselves to a onslaught of vitriolic comments.
All this infighting is counterproductive and childish. Think about it. Does it not make us all look bad? Would it not lead someone to believe that Linux is nothing more than a Wild West town with no sheriff to enforce law and order? I have made a pledge to myself to avoid opinions and subjects I know will fan the flames. In 2017, I plan on focusing on offering content that will teach people something. I have decided to drop distro reviews and most commentary from my channel.
I encourage you to do the same if you have a stake in the future of Linux. We need to be on our best behavior in the coming year. We have a lot of new folks coming to visit. Let’s be nice to them and make them want to stay.
ONE MORE THING…
2016 has had one very strange and long running storyline that has intrigued me quite a bit. Microsoft, the creators of the dreaded Windows virus, have loved up on Linux. This has raised a lot of speculation in the tech world and I can’t help but think that they are heading somewhere with all of this. It started with MS adding Ubuntu/Bash to Windows 10 and since then we have had some otherwise MS-only app or service ported to Linux just about every month. It was just a few weeks ago that MS became members of the Linux Foundation, with a seat on the board and everything. Could we be seeing the groundwork being laid for MS to introduce their very own Linux Distribution sometime in the distant future? What if they did? What if they made it mostly open-sourced and it would run Linux apps and also offer a great platform for running traditional Windows apps as well? I doubt MS would make it a free download if they did but it might be that they might charge something like $25 for it instead of the $100 plus they currently charge for Windows 10. Could it be that they are looking ahead and looking at the quagmire Windows code has become and thinking of a way to start fresh?
The implications are astounding… Whether or not it would be a good thing or a bad thing I can’t tell but it would certainly change the landscape of computing for all and good if they did.
Would you buy a copy of MS-Linux and give it a try? I would. Just a thought…
Happy New Year to everyone. Let’s all hope it’s a good one.