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The highs and lows of free software

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The highs and lows of free software in 2012

Our sister magazine Linux Format approached some of the brightest stars in the free software firmament to look back over the last 12 months and ask what's coming up over the next year.

Here's what they said…

Who was asked

Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman

The godfather of GNU, Stallman wrote the GPL, the licence that keeps free software free. He also wrote GCC, which lets us compile software for the Linux kernel.

Gaël Duval

Gael Duval

The creator of Mandrake Linux, the first GNU/Linux distro to take usability seriously as a feature. As the boss of Ulteo, Gaël is taking the OS in a new direction.

Damien Conway

Damian Conway

One of the elder statesmen of the Perl community, Damien designed Perl 6 and is thus responsible for the glue that holds the internet together. Kitten blogs wouldn't exist without him.

Ciarán O'Riordan

Ciaran O'Riordan

Ciarán campaigns against software patents in Brussels, for the aptly named End Software Patents. Even if you live outside the EU, he's trying to make your life better.

Clement Lefebvre

Clement Lefebvre

As the creator of Linux Mint, Clem is probably the man most in tune with what free software users want on a day-to-day basis. He's also involved with Mate and Cinnamon.

Stefano Zacchiroli

Stefano Zacchiroli

As Debian project leader, Stefano guides the most free distro of them all. Debian doesn't bend with the wind: it's principled, solid and it will be around forever.

What was the best thing to happen to free software over the last 12 months?

Damien Conway: For me, it's the continuing rise and rise of Git and GitHub. Both the technology and the website have, of course, been around for over half a decade now, but this past year seems to have been a kind of watershed in terms of uptake, usage, and general community awareness. The Git ecology isn't just an excellent example of free software in its own right; far more importantly, it's a massive enabler of collaborative free software development.

Clement Lefebvre: Without a doubt, Mate. Gnome 2 is what most people used. It's rock solid, mature, it's got the best printing, communication and network configuration tools out there and they just work. It represents years of efforts, improvements, and a huge pool of third-party components, applets and themes. For it not to disappear and continue under a new name, that has to be the single best achievement of the year. Credit to the Mate team for stepping up and taking over its maintenance.

I'm personally involved in one of the coolest projects out there, with Cinnamon, and I know people are excited about what we do, what Canonical does with Unity and what Gnome does with Shell. We're having a lot of fun and we're producing great technologies.

There's a lot of buzz on the forums, IRC and in the press about these new desktops but they appeal primarily to the vocal minority of GNU/ Linux enthusiasts who follow the news, like to try new things and are happy to accept that everything isn't fully ready yet. There are a lot of users out there who don't upgrade as often, don't follow the latest blogs and who simply don't understand why something that worked well before isn't available anymore or lost features all of sudden.

Mate is also a testament to free software and an illustration of what is commonly referred to as "freedom". Here we were, faced with a situation where the most popular GNU/Linux desktop was discontinued by its developers and no longer maintained. Thanks to the fact that it was licensed under the GPL, people from the GNU/Linux community gathered, formed a new team and took over its maintenance. This is a credit to that freedom that we all have to not only enjoy software, but to modify it to our needs, to redistribute it in an open manner, and for it to live beyond the scope or the interest of its original authors.