In the Linux and free software world both the Unity desktop and GNOME Shell had their first public releases that sparked plenty of controversy and set the scene for the year.
Mandriva underwent a lot of changes and finally in what seems like towards the end of 2011 managed to put out a release that underwhelmed and saw them leave behind their roots altogether. Just like the first two Mandriva fell for a smartphone/tablet inspired application chooser. I skipped reviewing it, but read this review on DistroWatch by Ladislav Bodnar with which I whole heartedly agree.
Why is this such a big deal? Because like many people I used to love it when it was still Mandrake Linux in the 90's. The company then reinvented themselves as Mandriva after merging with Conectiva and others and it looked promising in 2007 and 2008 as if they might return to old heights, with the quality of releases getting better.
Unfortunately the latest round was one reinvention too far, and I feel with all the changes in staffing and the identity of the distribution it doesn't have much in common with Mandriva but the name.
On the other side, the Mageia split off is far more like the old Mandriva than Mandriva itself, but is lacking innovation. A stable but unexciting distribution stuck in what it used to be like, but doing a good job at that. At least there is now an alternative. PCLinuxOS and Unity Linux are there too if you're longing for that old Mandriva feel, perhaps with a shot of Debian (apt-get/Synaptic).
The BSD's have been short-changed again this year, but I'm hoping to finally cover them more in coming months. The truth is though, although I see FreeBSD and OpenBSD and their descendants as a real option, as long as there are sane Linux distributions like Slackware and Arch that are modular, use BSD style init scripts, allow to build your own system from the ground up and encourage compiling from source by making it extremely easy through providing a clean architecture and a full set of tools, there is no real need to change. Thus I'm dragging my feet a bit. On my list for the coming year is trying out Crux and building a box with LFS if time allows.
On a more personal note, I have gone back to university after almost 20 years and started to take a masters degree, mostly out of a need to feel like progressing instead of being stuck in the treadmill of a 9-5 job where you already have achieved as much as you can. Fighting the prospect of doing the same thing for another 20 years. All the above take up a lot of my time and there'll be less posting here as a result. Please consider this blog as semi-retired for 2012.
With my background I should have done more reviews of disability friendly and accessibility solutions, but there do not seem to be that many around. I have already written about Knoppix with the ADRIANE audio desktop, and about Vinux (VI nux, get it?). Programs like Orca and Kmouth are standard and can be installed across all distributions, but you have got to know about them.
I've also tried the built-in functionality in Windows 7 Home, and it seems quite good although you have to invest a few days in order to train it up. Most if not all users in this group I have come across are married to the proprietary solution they are already using, like Dragon Naturally Speaking, and do not feel like experimenting. It's the old story - people generally just want something that works and don't care what it is. If they're already using a Windows based solution that does the job there is no incentive, in particular if that user feels more dependent due to low vision or disability.
2011, the year of GNOME 3, Unity, the Shell, Tablet PC's, Android, and Mandriva's decline into irrelevance. Plus an Arab uprising and the usual array of wars, natural disasters and man made catastrophes.
The annual horoscope for this year spoke of it as a powerful year of new beginnings, almost predicting the revolutions that would happen.
So take care, and whether you're an Atheist or not, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Muslim or what else,
wishing a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 2012.
Your blog author,