Top 10 Distribution Developments in 2010

Yes, it's that time of year. Eggnog, fruitcake, tangled lights, crowded stores, bad weather — and the annual industry retrospectives. You can't argue with tradition, though, and 2010 was a very interesting year for Linux and open source. Let's take a look back at 2010 and see whether it was naughty or nice.

Yes, it’s that time of year — time to look back and see what we accomplished, and make predictions about the coming year. Spoiler alert — 2010 was not the year of the Linux desktop.

This week I wanted to take a look at 2010 and see what happened at the distro level, and prepare for a sneak peek at 2011. You see, I think 2011 is going to be a very interesting year when it comes to Linux distros. But before we can get into that, let’s recap 2010.

10. PowerPC Wanes, ARM Reigns

Ever since Apple kicked PowerPC to the curb for Intel, PowerPC has been losing its shine for Linux systems as well. Yes, PowerPC is still a biggie for some of IBM’s enterprise customers, but it’s pretty much a dead platform for Linux desktops. The final nail in the coffin was Sony pulling Linux support from the PS/3 earlier this year.

ARM, on the other hand, is enjoying quite the upsurge. Millions of Linux-based ARM client computers have shipped this year in the form of Android phones and tablets, and Canonical and other companies have seen the wisdom in supporting ARM for netbooks. You won’t find a lot of netbooks or desktop-type systems with ARM on the shelves right now, but I suspect 2011 will change that.

9. Linux Mint Creates Debian Derivative

Linux Mint has really come into its own this year as a project. What started as a fairly light set of modifications off of Ubuntu has become a thriving project in its own right. Nothing has illustrated this quite so much as its Debian Edition.

The first release of Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE) was just a bit rough but the project has been refining the Debian Edition quite a bit. I’m looking forward to future releases and seeing how LMDE evolves in 2011.

8. openSUSE Announces Project Tumble

The openSUSE folks, at least those employed by Novell, have to have had a rough year. Not knowing what company you’ll be working for by the end of the year can’t be a particularly comfortable situation. I wouldn’t know for certain — the announcement that Novell was up for bid came a bit more than a month after I left — but it doesn’t seem like the kind of thing to settle nerves or help in long-term planning.

The Attachmate announcement, with the news that Attachmate wants to keep openSUSE around, finally settles things a bit. In the interim, the community seems to have stepped up even more with the prospect that Novell might not always be around to back openSUSE. The results have been positive all around.

Greg Kroah-Hartman’s announcement, of his intent to start a “rolling” version of openSUSE called Tumble, is a big win for the project. Kroah-Hartman is a get-it-done kinda guy, with lots of respect in the community. He also has a seemingly boundless capacity for work, so if he says he’s going to get it started, you might as well mark it on the calendar. A rolling distribution, that allows users to get the latest stable software on top of a solid distro like openSUSE (that they don’t need to compile themselves…) may do quite a bit to help openSUSE attract developers.

7. OpenSolaris Dies: Illumos Born

Yes, OpenSolaris is not a Linux distro. But it seemed like something worth mentioning due to the community crossover between Linux and OpenSolaris. It came as no surprise to see Oracle kick OpenSolaris to the curb, and not at all surprising that OpenSolaris has enough fans to take up the banner and create a fork to try to keep it alive.

Whether it succeeds or not, that’s the question. So far, I haven’t seen much evidence that the Illumos community is doing much more than just keeping the lights on — but maybe they’ll be able to create some excitement around their Solaris-based distribution in 2011.

The other reason I mention OpenSolaris here? Oracle was once regarded as a big Linux supporter. These days? I’m not so sure. Oracle may have the delusion that they can reverse the tide on Linux migrations and lure customers back to their very own Unix. If so, it could be interesting to see what kind of moves Oracle has in store on the technical, business, and legal fronts. There’s no question that Solaris stil has some advantages over Linux in some scenarios. Oracle might just give Linux some competition, though it’s hard for a company to champion two OSes for the same workloads simultaneously without really sowing confusion with its customers. (For example, see Sun’s lack of success pushing Solaris and Linux at the same time.)

On the business front — we might see a wave of FUD from Oracle about Linux’s suitability for mission critical workloads. I am skeptical, though — even for Oracle, this would be playing dirty. Plus, again, Oracle has sung the praises of Linux for a long time. One hopes customers would notice this.

Or Oracle could just get really ambitious and try to buy Red Hat. Red Hat is a public company, after all — and if they could grab Sun, they could pony up the cash for Red Hat. It’s a very ugly thought, but Oracle is not a stranger to hostile takeovers. However, if Oracle were to try this, I suspect IBM and HP would get involved.

The legal issue is the one that worries me the most, though. Oracle has been willing to be litigious over Java already, one wonders what other kinds of patent suits the company might pull out.

6. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 Ships

The long-awaited Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 6 shipped in October with a bunch of updates and features you’ve been seeing in Fedora for quite some time. Yeah, if you’ve been following the community distros, RHEL 6 is old news. But it’s cutting edge for the enterprise set, and will be dictating a lot of what features ship in SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, Ubuntu Server, and (of course) Oracle’s copycat Linux and CentOS.

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