What were the biggest developments in desktop Linux in 2013? As much as I'd like to jump on the end-of-year-list bandwagon and write about all the new open source applications and innovations of the last 12 months, this year not much happened in the world of the Linux desktop. The real Linux headlines were in the cloud, Android and embedded devices.
I've enjoyed recapping desktop Linux highlights in years past. It gives me something to do on New Year's Eve while waiting for the pigs-in-a-blanket to bake. (I joke. I am an aspiring vegetarian these days.) But this time around, the list of major developments in desktop Linux during the past year is pretty short.
The one big-ticket item was the introduction of new gaming opportunities for desktop Linux users in the form of the cloud-based Steam platform from Valve. That made open source operating systems more attractive for some users. (Not me, though. I stopped being cool enough to play games years ago.)
Beyond that, however, little has changed. Netflix for Linux, introduced in late 2012, still runs unofficially. KDE, GNOME and Unity still top the list of major Linux desktop environments, with no radical updates in the last year. Canonical is still developing Ubuntu, Red Hat is still funding Fedora, and the cool do-it-yourselfers are still running Debian (or Gentoo, if they truly want to choose their own adventures).
But this doesn't mean nothing has happened in the Linux world as a whole in 2013. On the contrary, there were a lot of developments beyond the desktop with major implications for the Linux community: The widespread adoption of OpenStack for open source cloud computing, updates to the Hadoop Big Data platform (including the introduction of YARN, a rewrite of the part of Hadoop formerly known as MapReduce) and the continuing massive popularity of the Linux-based Android operating system for tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices. Linux also enjoyed significant advances on embedded platforms like cars and in high-performance computing, as the Linux Foundation noted recently.
But if the past is a guide to the present (as an historian, I'm here to tell you it is), what the outgoing year teaches us about the incoming one is that the future momentum of Linux is not on the desktop. Until recently, big things were continuing to happen on that front -- even if none of them was big enough to spark the elusive Year of the Linux Desktop -- but in 2013, the focus shifted definitively toward the cloud, Big Data, mobile and other niches. Those of us running desktop Linux can happily keep doing so in 2014, but the days when cool new things will keep happening on our Linux PCs may be gone.
On that note, Happy New Year! I am off to bake tofu-in-a-blanket.