What does 2007 hold for open source?

The ongoing collision of free software and commercial business promises an action-packed year

I couldn't have an easier time playing fortune-teller this year. While some segments of the IT market might see the future as a wide-open plain, for the open source community, 2007 is shaping up to be a year for settling unfinished business.

If we cross our fingers, we might see the end of at least one chapter. IBM and Novell have the SCO Group on the ropes in their ongoing court case. With any luck, 2007 will finally see the majority of SCO's arguments laid to rest, ending this frustrating episode for Linux customers and vendors.

Don't assume that means smooth sailing from here on out, though. Microsoft seems determined to renew its PR war against open source with vague patent claims, as evidenced by the recent indemnification pact it signed with Novell.

The community didn't take kindly to Novell's trip to Redmond. But I for one suspect that this will only create more incentive for Novell to demonstrate that it had honorable intentions in entering into the deal. Suse Linux is still a great product, and it will get even better in the coming year. Expect numerous new product announcements from Novell -- particularly in the Windows/Linux interoperability area -- and furthermore, expect much of that code to be GPL-licensed. Staying true to open source principles is the best shot Novell has at saving face.

Don't expect an all-out blitz from Microsoft, either. Its game today is more subtle. Expect to hear a lot about heterogeneous environments from Microsoft marketing in 2007, with Windows characterized as the kindly uncle to that ugly stepchild, Linux.

Of course, Microsoft's main focus will be the wide release of Windows Vista. The pundits predict only slow adoption, with most of that coming from new PC purchases. Still, a new client OS from Microsoft will only steal the spotlight from competitors; yet again, 2007 won't be "the year of desktop Linux."

Vista's hardware requirements may be outrageous, but at least Vista works. Hardware support remains one of the toughest hurdles for desktop Linux distributions, with features such as 3-D video acceleration, power management, and driver support still lacking. There may be hope, however. With AMD's acquisition of ATI, the chipset market is heating up. I predict that one of the benefits of this increased competition will be new emphasis on Linux support from either AMD, Intel, or Nvidia, as a competitive measure.

End-user hardware such as video cards don't matter much in the server room, however, and Linux's presence in datacenters will continue to grow. The proliferation of virtualization options makes trying out Linux distributions easier than ever before. I challenge anyone to find me, in 2007, an IT department that uses no Linux at all.

Similarly, support from enterprise software vendors will gain momentum throughout the year. In particular, I predict that Oracle will reconsider its bully tactics against Red Hat, de-emphasize its ill-conceived Linux support program, and instead finally get to work on what its customers really want: a Linux-based Oracle software appliance that can be ready to run with just a few clicks. Maybe it will get some help from VMware in that area.

Sun Microsystems' decision to release Java under the GPL garnered lots of praise from the community. For its next move, expect to see partnerships with like-minded companies in the coming year. Might longtime competitor Red Hat even be on the list? If Sun plays its cards right, this could be the year it finally begins to see its fortunes reverse, as it positions itself as a new champion of open source.

The most disruptive event of the year, however, is sure to be the release of the final draft of version 3 of the GPL. Developers remain divided as to whether the new license has something to offer their projects, but a groundswell of support seems to be building. If core projects decide to adopt it, it could spell trouble for Linux vendors and other commercial open source companies.

All in all, expect another exciting but turbulent year, as the worlds of open source commercial software business continue their inexorable collision. I'll see you in 2007!

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