2013 was one of the most dramatic years of my life-time. The Edward Snowden revelations made this year the most remarkable year in the history. As a Gnu/Linux user (where privacy and control of data is prime objective) this year was quite promising as Gnu/Linux rose as the dominant player in the consumer space.
Here are some of the top stories from 2013, which affected me as a Free Software advocate.
Edward Snowden Leak
NSA’s out of the control surveillance of US (in conjunction with GCHQ) and global citizens has been the story of the year, or probably the decade as more information keeps coming in.
Edward Snowden was a NSA contractor who gathered a vast amount of secret NSA documents which exposed the agency’s ‘out-of-the-control’ spying program along with that of GCHQ, the spy agency of US’s 51st state UK.
According to his disclosure NSA collects phone records and reads emails or virtually everyone on this planet. NSA has broken encryption technologies to intercept communication, has injected backdoors in proprietary technologies and even worked with firms like RSA (what a coincidence…USA, NSA, RSA) and other US firms (allegedly Microsoft) to get backdoor access.
There are reports that NSA may have backdoors in hardware produced by the US companies. Microsoft is alleged to work with NSA and informs them about exploits before they are fixed so that the agency can use it to take control over user’s computers. According the the latest story NSA installs malware on hardware which is purchased online. The stories keep pouring in and 2014 will bring more stories.
So I can say that it’s not a good idea to trust any IT from the US – especially the proprietary ones.
Steam OS – Linux on Gaming
Valve Software has put all its weight behind Gnu/Linux as a gaming platform. After beta testing with Steam for Linux client (which showed Linux-based operating systems out-performing Windows) the company announced its own Debian powered gaming operating system Steam OS. The Steam OS uses the same model as Google’s Android and it trying to solve the same problem for gaming market that Android solved for mobile. Steam OS gives hardware vendors a platform to compete with Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony’s PlayStation and Nintendo Wii. The company also started shipping prototypes of Steam Machines to early birds in 2013. In 2014 Valve partners will start selling Steam Machines to mass market.
Rise of Firefox and Sailfish OS
While Canonical is still at very early stage of mobile OS development both Mozilla and Jolla succeeded in delivering mobile phones running their own mobile operating systems. Mozilla, in partnership with carriers and OEMs, started shipping it mobile phones to emerging markets in mid 2013. Jolla also started shipping its Sailfish OS powered mobile phones to Finnish market by the end of 2013. Interestingly Jolla’s phones run Wayland – which shows that the display manager is perfect for mobile platform.
After conquering the mobile landscape with Android, Google is now enjoying success of its Chromebooks. More and more traditions Microsoft partners have joined the Chromebook bandwagon (including players like HP) and are now offering Chrome OS powered laptops.
According to a report Chromebooks beat Macbooks in 2013 and it looks like Chromebooks will only become more dominant in 2014.
This $35 device may not be as open as a Gnu/Linux user would expect, but it became the hottest product of the year. This tiny device turns an average TV into a smart TV (as long as there is HDMI port) and allows users to stream content to the TV from the web. By the end of the year Google succeeded in getting more partners for its Chromecast and with Plex, it’s almost possible to play local content on this device – which is otherwise restricted by Google.
Yet another Linux powered device by Google which starts a new era of wearable computing, giving Google an unprecedented lead over competitors like Apple and Microsoft (which seems to be stuck in past). While Google Glass was announced in 2012, this year it started to reach inn to the hands of average (not so average) users as the company started shipping Google Glass Explorer Edition prototypes in April 2013.
Canonical in flux
The year 2013 was disappointing for Canonical as the company failed to get any partners to bring its products to the market – both Ubunty TV and Ubuntu for Android seemed to have been demoted from company’s PR list despite big promises. The company juggled between tablets and mobile phones as it struggled to find partners. It’s Ubuntu Edge campaigned failed, which seems to have shaken OEM’s interest in the platform. The company also locked horns with EFF by sending C&D letter to a staffer, and after strong criticism the company head was forced to apologize. The company leader also got quite a flack by calling the larger free software community as the ‘Tea Party of Open Source’. The company locked horns with Intel and larger free software community by announcing Mir instead of collaborating on Wayland. Intel later rejected to accept XMir patches showing how bad Canonical is at collaboration. I hope with 2014 the company will realize the value of collaboration and privacy and will chmod from hype and promises to deliveries.
Rise of openSUSE
Considering the controversial Dash Search feature of Ubuntu (which is like NSA/GCHQ’s wet dream), Canonical’s somewhat hostile attitude towards the larger free software community more and more people are moving away from Canonical controlled Ubuntu and are looking for alternatives.
openSUSE is fast emerging as a favorite of many Gnu/Linux users as it not only respects user’s privacy but also is developed by a community which leads the development of the Linux kernel, LibreOffice, Gnome, KDE and many other open source technologies. The distro did not disappoint and got better with each release. The OS got rave reviews from around the Interweb.
Raspberry’s growing Pi
Raspberry Pi continued to grow with support from Google as it is experiencing wide adoption in so many different field. There is now a very strong community around Raspberry Pi which is turning it into a magical device.
Rise of CyanogenMod
CyanogenMod announced that they are turning into a company and managed to bag around $30 million funding from partners. The company also struck a deal with Chinese OEM Oppo and launched the first CyanogenMod powered device in the market. Oppo N1 is also the first CyanogenMod phone which is certified by Google so the suite of Google services and apps are available to the users. It seems the year 2014 will be bright for CyanogenMod though it’s unclear what value they would bring to the market as they are build on top of Android Open Source Project. I think 2014 will give more answers to this question.
Arrival of ownCloud & Kolab
The surveillance state of America lead shutdown of two major secure email services Lavabit and Silent Circles (though they were both proprietary). NSA has created a need for services and technologies which are developed and hosted outside of the US (in some privacy respecting country) and that’s where the market created an opportunity for Switzerland based Kolab Systems which offers secure communication. The company is getting quite a lot of attention since NSA disclosure. The best thing is that Kolab has very strong roots in Gnu/Linux and is a major contributor to Free Software.
Same is the case with Germany based ownCloud which got better with time and now also offers a competitor to Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 where you can run an online office suite from your own server without letting anyone else having access to your data. Once again ownCloud is also a strong supporter of Free Software.
Looking at 2014
I am quite positive about 2014 for Linux and Free Software. I think this year Linux Foundation head Jim Zemlin would be able to say, again, ‘This is the year of desktop Linux’. This time it won’t be a joke.
Google’s Chromebooks has capture a decent market and mind share. It’s getting Microsoft nervous (which is good news, as Microsoft doesn’t have a very good heart condition and their BP goes high very quickly). The momentum of Chromebooks will continue in 2014 as more players will offer their devices. I hope that these devices will come with more storage and better hardware so we Linux users can also use them to dual boot with openSUSE or the distro of our choice (shh..to keep data offline so Google (or Canonical) don’t know about it).
Getting back our privacy
US Companies (with Canonical as an exception) want us to believe that privacy is a myth. They want us to give up the notion of privacy all together so that they can sell us their products based on all that they know about it. They keep repeating the myth that there is no privacy so many times that we have eventually started to believe in it.
Whether it be Facebook, Microsoft, Google (which is actually does some good things for people), Apple (with its iCloud they want a copy of everything we have despite charging a premium for their hardware), Canonical – they all want our ‘meta’ data.
I don’t think privacy is a myth. Yes NSA and US companies have made it harder to stay private but it can be achieved. One thing that we can do in 2014 is to make it harder for these companies, make it more expensive for NSA, to gain access to our privacy. Thanks to Gnu/Linux (excluding Ubuntu) and open source technologies you can maintain privacy.
I think Linux will become a dominant player in the gaming field – thanks to Steam OS. It will continue its dominance in the mobile space with Android and increase presence in the desktop space with Chrome OS. Only areas that will left for a player to explore would be audio, video production where Linux doesn’t have the commercial grade tools. In general the Linux and Free Software communities will continue the development of their projects – offering people alternatives as and when needed. Both KDE and Gnome will get more polished and mature with new releases in 2014 and we may see rise of a community based desktop OS which will ensure our privacy and give free software community the respect it deserves.
I think 2014 will be the beginning of ‘era of Linux’. Good bye 2013. Welcome 2014.
Happy New Linux Year!