New year, new list
Last year, right about this time, I listed my top Linux distributions to watch during 2015. Not which ones would be the best. Nor which would be the worst. Simply which ones I believed would be the most interesting, the most fascinating, to watch over the course of the year. I’ve done so again this year. Because it sounded like fun and I wanted to. Enjoy.
Editor's note: This article originally appeared on Network World.
I find elementary OS absolutely fascinating. This Ubuntu-based system, with a dedication to design that borders on the obsessive, continues to entertain me. A (relatively) small team that can produce one of the most polished-looking Linux-based distributions on the planet is worth mentioning. And now, thanks to donations and the like, they have one full-time person working on the project. Where elementary is going in 2016 is something I am very curious about.
Let’s get the Ubuntu Touch stuff out of the way right now. One of my predictions for 2016 is that Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, will pull away from the phone market and begin to mothball Ubuntu Touch (to be clear: I’m not rooting for this to happen, I just think it’s likely). Which is going to make watching what happens to this mobile-centric Linux distro incredibly interesting this year. Heck, maybe it’ll surprise us and have an amazing year filled with huge commercial success. Either way…it’s going to be fun to watch.
While we’re on the topic of Ubuntu… let’s talk about Ubuntu GNOME. When Ubuntu was first released back in 2004, it used GNOME (then 2.x). And, during Ubuntu’s meteoric rise to consumer desktop Linux dominance, GNOME was the primary user interface. If Ubuntu is pulling away from the mobile space, it seems logical to also pull resources away from working on the Unity interface – which was first developed as an alternative user interface for netbooks. If this were to happen, and I’m not 100% convinced that it will (though it makes logical sense), Ubuntu GNOME is positioned in a uniquely good position to become the primary version of Ubuntu.
Last one about Ubuntu, I swear. But it would be silly of me to not include Ubuntu MATE on this list. This version of Ubuntu, in a nutshell, is what Ubuntu was before Unity came along. MATE is a fork of GNOME 2.x – making Ubuntu MATE the spiritual successor to Ubuntu of old. The project has been seeing a good deal of success, including being made available on hardware from of a few OEMs. I don’t expect anything earth-shattering from this distro in 2016, at least not in terms of new features. But I expect the user base to grow with more news breaking about them. And how Canonical and the rest of the industry responds will be fascinating.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit biased when it comes to openSUSE. But openSUSE, without the slightest hesitation, deserves to be on the list this year. As of the end of 2015, openSUSE now comes in two distinct flavors. Leap (the regular release) and Tumbleweed (the rolling release). It’s an interesting and unique approach – I’ve heard it described as “if Fedora and Arch were part of the same project with one building upon the other.” That by itself makes it worth keeping an eye on during 2016.
Let’s take a quick detour into Google territory. At the end of 2015, Google released an Android tablet that is more like a laptop than a traditional tablet. And rumors abound of Android gaining “Desktop-like” functionality in 2016 – movable, overlapping windows and the like. It seems pretty likely. The big question is… how are people going to respond? Will people like using a “Desktop-ified” Android? Or will it become a detour that Google will quickly correct? In that regard, simply watching the reaction of the press and users will be popcorn-worthy.
You ever get that feeling like you’re in the calm right before the storm? Like it’s… a little TOO quiet? That’s how I feel about Chrome OS right now. There was a lot of activity in ChromeOS land for a while but things have slowed down lately. Almost like something big is brewing inside Google. Something they’re keeping close to their vest. In 2016, I think we’ll find out what that something is. And I think it’ll be surprising.
Sailfish OS, a Linux distro built for phones and tablets, is developed by Jolla. Jolla has been having a hard time lately. Which means that 2016 is the year that Sailfish may go belly-up. You always hate to predict the demise of any project – and Sailfish is certainly one I want to see succeed – but things are not trending in a great direction. So, like Ubuntu Touch, this one will be interesting to watch. Let’s hope that we’re all surprised by some unexpected success this year.
Tails, a security and anonymity-focused Linux distro that uses the Tor network by default, is listed by the NSA as a “major threat” (Edward Snowden uses it). It isn’t brand new. But in 2016 I expect an increasing amount of press and user interest, both in Tails as a system and in other Linux distributions adopting some of the Tails feature set. What will that mean, exactly? Not a clue. Maybe we’ll see misguided politicians attacking it. Maybe we’ll see another surge in privacy concerns. Whatever happens in the world of security and privacy, I expect Tails to be right there... front and center.
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