Comic: XKCD #225.
Open Source has been around for quite some time, but odds are most people you ask won't know what "open source" is. This isn't because open source is obscure, but rather it has slipped into the mainstream, and unless you're already in the know, there's no real reason you will have noticed it.
But open source is here, and it's growing.
Linux was written by Linus Torvalds in 1991. Linux itself was based on earlier incomplete kernels that themselves were available for reworking and building upon. When Torvalds licensed Linux under the GNU public license, there was mostly scoffing in the media, with a small minority of voices predicting widespread growth in the future. Now a majority of web servers worldwide are running Linux (see Wikipedia, above), and Linux dominates the supercomputer market and adoption in high-end special effects houses in Hollywood. Linux also powers auto electronics, weapons systems, and an increasing number of desktop, laptop and netbook computers.
My prediction: Linux distros will continue to gain desktop and laptop popularity as they develop more usability and visual style improvements. Ultimately, though, it will take hardware driver maker support (or replacement) to create the happy turn-on-and-use experience most non-geeks want out of a computer. Usability is a hard thing to design by committee, but once it starts kicking in, I don't see much of anything holding Linux back. (And no, I don't see computers going away altogether. The cloud is nice, but with all that local processing power there is a great opportunity for cooler, better apps that can leverage that cloud far better than a generic browser. [Not to mention privacy and security concerns that will always hound an open network.] I may be way off on this one, but I don't think so.)
Last week Firefox 3.5 became the world's #1 browser release, edging out Internet Explorer 7. Of course, when you add in Internet Explorer 8 and the dead-but-not-buried Internet Explorer 6, Microsoft still holds the largest market share. Still, as ZDNet's Paula Rooney notes, open source has been putting the squeeze on IE.
The days of Internet Explorer’s dominance appear to be waning. Of course, Microsoft’s Windows operating system monopoly still owns the market, but we’re not sure how long that will matter, especially as software-as-a-service models take off and Google’s web-focused operating system is prepped for release.
As Microsoft’s grip on the browser market loosens, opportunities for open source rivals are blossoming. It will be interesting to see which of the two top open source browsers benefits most in 2009 [sic].
My prediction: Indeed, 2010 will be interesting for the browser market. Firefox will continue to grow, but Google Chrome, especially with Google's banner ad-driven marketing push, could be #1 by 2011, pushing IE8 and IE9 out of any hope for the #1 release spot. And this will be huge as webapps and software-as-a-service continue to take up more of the usage market from desktop apps. In fact, this latter development will push Microsoft hard to fall in line with web standards and fight to keep up with the far larger open source development communities of its browser competitors.