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Developers, developers...

Win – The Dell Sputnik – Dell launched its developer laptop running Ubuntu to generally good reviews. Open source oriented developers in the US were happy to see Dell adopt Ubuntu again, and on a product aimed at serious users to boot. The laptop launched with its own cloud-enabled synchronisation tool for application profiles and a “Cloud Launcher” that helps developers test applications locally before deploying them in the cloud. It finally looked like a major OEM was taking Linux on laptops seriously again.

Meh – The Dell Sputnik – The problem with the Sputnik was, though, that it wasn't that special. A relatively low resolution screen (for developers), limited SSD storage and so far it is only on sale through Dell’s US web site; the Sputnik is a beach-head at best. At least the hardware is a current mid-range model from Dell's catalogue, unlike previous Linux desktop and laptop offerings.

Win – Steam on Linux – Valve’s announcement, and later rollout, of a Steam client for Linux captured the imagination of many Linux users. While still in beta, many found the client very stable and thanks to the Humble Bundle and several independent games developers, a solid launch list of games were already ported to the platform. Widespread success of Steam on Linux obviously depends on the selection of games, especially Tier A titles, that will become available for it in the future. But even now, the public beta of Steam on Linux has already done more for gaming on the platform than any other project, save the intrepid developers of WINE and its sponsor Codeweavers.

... like a Firefox

Win – Firefox – Transitioning to a rapid release model that seems to have worked well of its major open source competitor Chrome, Mozilla’s Firefox browser has been continuing to gain features, and to a lesser extent market share. Firefox has been advancing from version 10, released in January, to the most recent Firefox 17 from November. In that time, the browser has gained an inline CSS Style Inspector, a new update service on Windows, a redesigned New Tab page, has started to use SPDY, got improved hang detection to help with stability issues and added support for the Opus audio codec. The browser also received many updates to its developer tools, had its startup time reduced and the last released updated the way Firefox displays results in the location bar.

Fail – Firefox – Despite all its improvements and updates, Firefox is still being plagued by stability and performance issues on all three major desktop platforms. While benchmarks tend to be rather inconclusive in this field, Chrome still feels like a much nimbler browser in many ways. The new rapid release schedule also seems to be at odds with Mozilla’s desire to publicise, in contrast to Google with Chrome, every increase in the version number as a major release. Often, the short amount of development time means the list of revolutionary user-visible features is rather short. Mozilla’s plan for sandboxed tabs in Firefox was halted, a feature that has been very successful for Chrome since its inception, replaced with a longer term plan to build a replacement for Firefox using the Mozilla developed Rust language.

Meh – FirefoxOS – A presence on mobile platforms has been something that Mozilla has wanted, but in 2012 it switched its plans around to be the mobile platform itself. FirefoxOS is being developed in the open and ambitiously uses web technology for the entire interface of the operating system. As it is still under heavy development at the moment, FirefoxOS will have to be classed as a "Meh" for now as far as mainstream users are concerned. However, this will most likely change once the project sees an official release in the new year.

Meh – Thunderbird – Mozilla’s pronouncement that Thunderbird was where it wanted it to be and that it would scale back development to mere bug fixes left many of its users dismayed. Although third party contributed features and improvements are still being incorporated into the code base, it seems users are slowly migrating away to, in most cases, proprietary webmail clients. For an organisation whose mission states to promote open source technologies, this seems to be an undesirable outcome.

Closing 2012...

Another mixed year as open source both innovated and regressed on different fronts. The essential truths remained though – good work stands up for itself and doesn't need to be spun by marketing. When the community works together, it can take on massive problems and tame them and when it splinters, good work can still be done. But the community does not have an endlessly aligned attention span and communication with the community, like code, needs to happen early and often. The better companies and projects get at that, the better 2013 will be for all.

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