For Linux, 2014 could easily be labeled the year enterprise really and truly embraced Linux. It could just as easily be labeled the year that nearly forgot Linux on the desktop. If you weren’t Docker, containers, OpenStack, or big data ─ chances are the spotlight didn’t brighten your day much. If, however, you (or your product) fell into one of those categories, that spotlight shined so brightly, it was almost blinding.
Let’s glance back into our own wayback machine and see where Linux succeeded and where it did not. The conclusions should be fairly simple to draw and are incredibly significant to the state of Linux as a whole.
The year 2014 will very possibly go down as one of the single most successful years to date for Linux. This is perfectly illustrated when you glance at the relationship between Linux and enterprise-level business. Taking center stage for the better part of the year was OpenStack. A number of enterprise-level clients have taken up the OpenStack banner and are proving just how powerful it can be. Included in that list of successes are:
Florida State University
The list goes on and on.
It was June, 2014 that Red Hat Linux formally announced the Red Hat OpenStack Cloud Infrastructure Partner Network. According to Red Hat, this partner network was designed to appeal specifically to enterprise organizations that offer hardware￼, software and services for cloud infrastructure￼ solutions based on Red Hat OpenStack. Red Hat also launched the Red Hat OpenStack Certification program which armed solution providers with the means to certify their hardware as OpenStack approved. At that time (June), Red Hat declared over 4,000 servers and 13,000 applications OpenStack certified.
2014 wasn’t just the year for OpenStack. One of Linux’s prime successes came at the hand of SUSE Linux. The launch of their Live Kernel Patching is undoubtedly one of the most impressive achievements of the year. This solution offered subscribers to SUSE Enterprise Linux the ability to patch their kernels without the necessity of an immediate reboot. SUSE wasn’t about to stop there. In conjunction with SAP Hana, SUSE navigated themselves into a perfect position to serve up the needs of big data. In-memory databases are the bread and butter of big data. In 2014 SUSE declared it would back an initiative to help big data startups develop new applications based on the SAP HANA platform.
The next major success for Linux was the first stable (enterprise-ready) release of Docker in November. Docker is an open platform that enables administrators to build, roll out, and run distributed applications. Docker allows for quick assembly of apps from components (instead of having to build from scratch) so IT can ship faster and run easier. This happened thanks to Linux and open source.
When you look back at 2014, you might see a rather bleak time for Linux on the desktop. Not one distribution was released with much in the way of hype. Look at Ubuntu 14.10 and how antithetical that was for the Linux desktop hype machine. Of course, you almost have to look at all recent Ubuntu releases as nothing more than a holding pattern until Unity 8/Mir are finally released into the wild. Outside of Ubuntu, can you think of a single Linux desktop release in 2014 that made much of a stir? Here’s my short list of answers:
Linux Deepin 2014 (the 2014 release brought a new, exciting take on the desktop interface)
Evolve OS (even though this is still very much in beta)
Quantum OS (another early concept-stage distribution of Linux that borrows heavily on Android’s Material Design).
Other than those three desktops, it was pretty much business as usual. Sure, some desktops saw improvement, but none really brought any dealmaker releases to the table.
Unless you count ChromeOS. Built on the Linux kernel, ChromeOS found itself taking 2014 by storm. Constantly selling in the top five, Chromebooks became the new darling child within the consumer space. Gartner predicted Chromebook sales would reach 5.2 million in 2014. The reality wasn’t too far off. Between January and May, Chromebooks accounted for nearly 35 percent of all commercial channel notebook sales (an estimated 1.4 million). That’s a serious amount of Linux-based laptops in the hands of consumers. Unfortunately, because of the Google association, many are hesitant to attach the Linux label to ChromeOS.
The other “success that’s not a success” would fall into the lap of Android. Another platform dependent upon the Linux kernel, one that many do not see as Linux, managed to continue its epic rise to dominance. In 2014, Android global dominance reached 84 percent ─ with over 283 million units shipped. Think about it ─ over 283 million smartphones running the Linux kernel. Yes, it only makes use of the Linux kernel (no libraries or toolkits), but without that kernel, Android might not exist.
And then there was the Munich Linux migration that came under question from every angle. This migration was a very long time in the works and promised to become one of the biggest Linux rollouts in the history of the platform. But then a city government funded study came to light that could bring Munich returning to the Windows ecosystem. Should this be undone, not only could it negatively affect Linux viability in the future, it would cause a massive loss of time, effort, and money.
Regardless of the how and why, what should have been a major win for Linux wound up a dark spot on the Linux desktop. Did this prove anything? Outside of the fact that such a massive migration from one platform to another is fraught with obstacles … not much.
The year 2014 should have been the year we finally saw the convergent desktop. Canonical was supposed to ship the Ubuntu phone which would then bring to life a seamless desktop and mobile experience. That didn’t happen (nor does it seem to show any sign that it actually will happen).
This is a shame because mobility makes up up for nearly 75 percent of network usage across the globe. That means more and more users are viewing the web from their smartphones. That Canonical did not deliver that seamless connection between mobile and desktop means one thing: Someone else will do it. Clearly that someone else will be either Apple or Microsoft.
This particular failure is fairly condemning, considering that Canonical has been working on the convergent desktop for some time. Had they not been so set on Unity 8/Mir, we probably would have witnessed the first ever convergent desktop in 2014 ─ all thanks to Linux. Instead, we have nothing to show for it outside of a vaporware smartphone.
Shellshock and Heartbleed
You cannot look at Linux and 2014 and not address two of the worst security issues to plague the platform ─ Heartbleed and Shellshock.
Heartbleed was a security issue, disclosed in April 2014, that exploited the OpenSSL security layer. At the time of disclosure around half a million of the Internet's secure web servers were vulnerable, allowing theft of the servers’ private keys and users’ session cookies and passwords. This bug was deemed catastrophic. Bodo Moeller and Adam Langley of Google prepared the patch and on April 7 the patch was made available.
The second vulnerability discovered in 2014 was called Shellshock because it was a family of security bugs in the bash shell system. Within hours of the initial Shellshock disclosure, attackers exploited the vulnerability by creating botnets on compromised computers to perform distributed denial-of-service attacks and vulnerability scanning. This bug was deemed (by many) to be even worse than Heartbleed. On Sept. 26, it was reported (by Incapsula) that 17,400 attacks on more than 1,800 web domains, originating from 400 unique IP addresses occurred. On Oct. 1, Michał Zalewski from Google Inc. declared that Florian Weimer's code and bash43-027 resolved the issue.
Enterprise saves the day
The year 2014 will be seen as a banner year for Linux ─ thanks to the amazing work done on the enterprise level. With OpenStack, SUSE, Red Hat, Containers, and Docker leading the charge, Linux has made more headway into the world of enterprise computing than it has in a very long time.
The other side of that coin doesn’t look so shiny. Between the disappointing desktop releases and two of the nastiest bugs in the history of the platform, Linux didn’t fare so well for end users and administrators. That doesn’t mean the year was a complete failure on the desktop. Arch Linux, Linux Mint, Fedora, Debian, openSUSE, and even Ubuntu did release solid entries in the desktop space ─ they did, however, fail to make much more than a ripple in the waters.
Here’s hoping that 2015 will bring even more spectacular finds for the enterprise and a drastic rise in the popularity of Linux on the desktop.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the Munich migration didn't happen. It was deemed complete in 2013, according to ZDNet.