Why 2017 Will Be Awesome

Gimp and Firefox

Gimp's current stable release series is 2.8.x, and can you guess when 2.8.0 was released? Way back in 2012. Yes, we've been waiting for almost five years for a new major update, and for many artists and designers, the delay has been agonizing. We can't point fingers, of course, because open source projects can only progress when there are enough developers to contribute, but we really hope to see Gimp 2.10 some time this year.

The changelog [2] is huge: Gimp 2.10 will use the GEGL image processing library for all operations, with higher bit depths and experimental hardware accelerated rendering via OpenCL, and the position and content of items on the canvas can be locked to prevent them being edited (as often seen in desktop publishing applications).

Many new tools have been added (see Figure 3), including Unified Transform (which combines rotation, scaling, and skewing in a single tool), N-point deformation (to bend objects in a natural way), and Warp Transform (like the old IWarp plugin, but working directly on the image and not just in a preview window). Additionally, all filters can be previewed on the image canvas itself, and new icon sets have been added to make the user interface shinier.

Figure 3: When Gimp 2.10 finally arrives, it will sport a bunch of new features, including diagonal pixel detection in fuzzy selects.

Firefox, meanwhile, has a much more aggressive release schedule than Gimp, so we'll definitely see some major updates this year. The one we're all waiting for is "Electrolysis," the work to split Firefox up into multiple processes rather than running everything together as one big lump. This should drastically improve performance, because individual tabs, add-ons, and the user interface can all run in separate processes, so if one becomes particularly sluggish for whatever reason, the others won't be affected.

Some beta testing for Electrolysis is already underway (see Figure 4); all being well, it will become the default in Firefox 51 or 52 toward the middle of the year (or a bit later). Another possible new feature is Context Graph, a homepage replacement that recommends websites to you based on the context of what you've recently been looking at. This might be a controversial feature among FOSS purists, but if we can turn it off, we'll live with it. For more on Context Graph, see the wiki [3].

Figure 4: Users of Firefox nightly builds already can try the Electrolysis process separation system for better performance.

Android and Chrome OS To Become One?

Another thing we may see in 2017 is the fruit of Google's Andromeda, a project to merge the Android and Chrome OS codebases (see Figure 5). Although Google hasn't officially announced anything along these lines yet, rumors have it that the company is working on this internally and wants to unify the mobile operating systems into a single core. This makes sense to us: There's an increasing amount of overlap between the use cases of smartphones, tablets, and small laptops, especially as the former become bigger and more powerful.

Figure 5: Will this be the year that Android and Chrome OS finally merge into the one mobile OS to rule them all?

However, the merge has to be executed well. Over the past few years, we've seen far too many clumsy attempts to shoehorn touch interfaces into more traditional pointer-driven ones, and vice versa. If Andromeda becomes public, it has to be more than just a mash-up of interfaces – it has to work seamlessly across different devices so that you don't even notice it.

Microsoft and Linux in 2017

Now that Microsoft has said it "loves" Linux and is porting various tools to the OS, what can you expect from the company in 2017? Around the middle of the year, you should see the public release of SQL Server for Linux. At the time of writing, a preview version for Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Enterprise Linux Server, and Ubuntu was available [4]. For developers, a new version of Visual Studio Code for Linux should also arrive early this year.

In more general terms, it will be interesting to see how Microsoft's attitude toward Linux and open source continues to evolve throughout the year, especially as the company jumped on board the Linux Foundation in November 2016 as a high-paying Platinum member. Many of us who've been using Linux since the 1990s remember the bad old "Linux is a cancer" days of ex-CEO Steve Ballmer, and while things have changed considerably under Satya Nadella, it's still best to be cautious. If Microsoft "loves" Linux, that's "great," but ultimately the company's main interest is making money for its shareholders.

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