The year 2008 showed open source -- both in the form of Linux specifically and as a software development model generally -- coming into the mainstream like never before. When it wasn't powering new hardware niches like the netbook, it was forming the core of Google's new Android mobile operating system or its Chrome browser, and sitting at the center of legal wrangling with wide-ranging repercussions.
Here are the top highlights of the past year in the open source arena.
1. The Rise (And Falling Price) Of The Netbook
Linux-powered and budget-priced, the ASUS Eee PC and its successors proved that you didn't need a full-blown notebook computer to get work done. A netbook gets you Internet connectivity, word processing, and a slew of other common tasks -- all in a machine that cost around $350 or so. Even if later models of the Eee and other netbooks came with Windows XP as an option, that wasn't enough to kill the buzz for inexpensive Linux-powered devices. Netbooks also proved to be a better bet than Linux-powered desktop PCs at the same price point: why pay the same for a machine that doesn't even come with a display?
The race to the bottom with netbook prices hasn't stopped yet -- in fact, it's barely gotten started. As of this writing, consumer-electronics maker Coby is planning a $99 netbook. That's about a low a price floor as you can go to without subsidizing the sales in some fashion (e.g., a wireless data plan, as per cell phones).
2. Sun's Slow Spiraling Towards Nova
No, Sun hasn't gone nova quite yet, but it's getting mighty hot. Despite slumping sales, heavy layoffs, a tanking stock price, and customers hoofing it to other pastures (mainly Linux), Sun has beat relentlessly on its commitment to open solutions as a possible way out for both them and their stockholders.
One can't say they haven't tried. OpenOffice, under their sponsorship, released the long-awaited, if only incrementally revised, version 3. Solaris itself was open-sourced and, this year, released in a desktop-friendly implementation. And -- most significantly -- Sun bought MySQL AB, a move which ignited as much contention as it did enthusiasm among fans of both companies. Does this mean MySQL would go down with the ship if Sun implodes, or signal a change in direction for both companies?
3. The Release Of Ubuntu 8.10 And Fedora 10
Flagship distributions of Linux don't get any more prominent than Ubuntu and Fedora, and this year both of them hit major milestones. Ubuntu 8.10 brought the distribution -- one which for many people is Linux -- to a new level of usability and reliability, and added goodies like better mobile networking and the ability to build a mobile USB edition from an install CD.
Fedora, Red Hat's non-commercial distribution, also got a new revision and now sports: a new startup system; better remote-provisioning features; wireless connection sharing; and Firstaidkit, a rescue utility designed to preserve as much user data as possible in the event of a system-gobbling disaster. If 2008 hasn't been the long-vaunted "year of the Linux desktop," it ought to be.