Our open source expert foresees the future of Linux: By 2012 the OS will have matured into three basic usage models. Web-based apps rule, virtualization is a breeze, and command-line hacking for basic system configuration is a thing of the past.
In the time it takes most college students to earn an undergraduate degree -- or party through their college savings -- Linux will continue to mature and evolve into an operating system that non-technical users can fully embrace.
The gOS "Space" desktop distills the Linux desktop to its bare, Web-driven essentials.
The single biggest change you'll see is the way Linux evolves to meet the growing market of users who are not themselves Linux-savvy, but are looking for a low-cost alternative to Microsoft (or even the Mac). That alone will stimulate enormous changes across the board, but there are many other things coming down the pike in the next four years, all well worth looking forward to.
Over the course of the last four years, Linux has taken enormous strides in usability and breadth of adoption. Here's a speculative look forward at what Linux could be like a few years from now -- or, maybe we could say what Linux ought to be like.
For-free Versus For-pay
Expect to see a three-way split among different versions of Linux. Not different distributions per se, but three basic usage models:
1. For-pay: Ubuntu's in-store $20 boxes are a good example. For a nominal cost, you get professional support for Linux as well as licenses to use patent-restricted technologies (e.g., codecs for legal DVD playback).
Expect this to at least gain nominal momentum, especially if the cost is no more than an impulse buy and people understand that Ubuntu can non-destructively share a machine with Windows. Also expect at least one other Linux company to pick up on this model (openSUSE, for instance), and to have preloads on new systems incorporate such things if they don't already.
2. Free to use: This is the most common model right now -- a free distribution with support optional, and additional optional support for closed-source components: proprietary, binary-only device drivers.
3. Free/libre: These distributions contain no components with patent encumbrances or other issues, in any form. Distributions like gNewSense or Blag Linux already do this, and an upcoming version of Ubuntu (8.10 / "Intrepid Ibex," due in October) will also feature a wholly free installation option.