For the desktop Linux user, 2015 was a great year. There were major updates for nearly every single desktop available, launches of brand new desktops, even an impressive new distro that's forging its own path.
Popular software packages also saw impressive updates – like GIMP, Inkscape and LibreOffice to name just a few – and new applications continue to emerge seemingly everyday.
Sadly, the year ended on a tragic note with the death of Ian Murdock, co-creator of Debian (the name Debian is a combination of Ian and Murdock's girlfriend at the time, Deborah Lynn). Murdock's impact on the Linux world was massive (ever use apt-get? Thank Murdock); indeed, there would be no Linux as we know it without him, and he will be missed.
Though it ended darkly, much of the rest of 2015 was lit up by some impressive releases. Still, despite all the good news for desktop users in the last year one star shined perhaps a little less brightly this year – Ubuntu.
For the second year running, Ubuntu – arguably the most widely used Linux distro – had a pretty "meh" kind of year. The distro did stick to its twice-yearly release schedule – which is impressive; try to recall the last time Ubuntu missed a release date – with two solid releases that fixed bugs and introduced a couple minor new features each time. By and large though desktop Ubuntu was a bit boring.
And Ubuntu Mobile didn't fare a whole lot better. While there are a couple devices now on the market, Ubuntu-based mobile devices feel, if not vaporware anymore, at least like perpetual beta-ware.
Ubuntu also fell well short of its stated goal to have 200 million users by the end of the year. Speaking at a developer summit back in May 2011, Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth said: "[Our] goal is 200 million users of Ubuntu in four years." Alas, the stats currently on Canonical's website currently claim a mere 40 million users.
Still, if you time travelled back to 1993 and told early Debian users that eventually 40 million people would be using a downstream project, to say nothing of Debian itself, no one would believe you and you'd probably be laughed right off the mailing list. Which is to say, Ubuntu might have missed its goal, but its efforts are impressive nonetheless.
Luckily for users outside the Ubuntu ecosystem 2015 had an embarrassment of riches.
Fedora found its groove again with Fedora Next and turned out its most impressive releases to date. More than just a great release though, the Fedora Project feels re-energized, like Fedora suddenly remembered what it was and where it was going. That's great news for Fedora fans, but it's also great news for RHEL and its many derivatives.
OpenSUSE had a similarly exciting year with its new Leap project. The core of Leap is SUSE Enterprise Linux, but the userland applications are maintained by openSUSE. In other words, Leap delivers the best of both worlds – the stable underpinnings of an enterprise distro with the up-to-date packages of openSUSE. It also means that the openSUSE project doesn't have to develop all that low level stuff and can focus on the things that make openSUSE different than SUSE.
Linux Mint put out a series of impressive releases this year and, thanks in part to its decision to stick with Ubuntu 14.04 throughout its release cycle has been able to focus on its Cinnamon desktop without worrying about whatever changes Ubuntu was making under the hood (notice a theme here?). In fact Cinnamon is arguably the best desktop available right now, an impressive feat considering the size of its development team and that Cinnamon is not yet four years old.
Distros weren't the only exciting things happening in Linux and desktops had a banner year as well. The KDE project released a major update and introduced Plasma 5 and the new Breeze UI. With its flat, "modern" look, Plasma 5's Breeze gives much of KDE a refreshing new feel that makes it look significantly less like a desktop that just crawled out of 1995. Under the hood there's been a lot of effort devoted to speeding things up with OpenGL-based graphics as well.
The GNOME project did not have such an exciting year, but it did continue to roll out its suite of integrated core applications, with a couple new ones like Calendar and Maps.
Even the perpetually unexciting Xfce desktop managed to release its most significant update in many years.
About the only major desktop without a major update this year was LXDE, which is in the middle of a massive re-write to the Qt framework. Look for LXQT to emerge later this year.
2015 was also the year Linux phones took the market by storm. Just kidding.
I had predicted that 2015 would either be the year we got Linux on mobile or it would be the year we got a mobile addendum to the longstanding "Year of Linux" joke.
Given that we did actually get a couple of mobile devices, but that those devices remain obscure and used primarily by a handful of hard-core Linux fans, I would say 2015 was the year that proved "Year of Linux" jokes will never die.
Sorry fellow Linux fans, there will never be a Year of the Linux anything, so you can throw those phone dreams out the window. Sure, there are Linux phones but they're never taking anything by storm. Unless you count Android, but that would be like counting ATM users as Linux users. Then again, many, perhaps most, ATM users are Linux users and actually it has been the year of Linux many times over.
Linux is just buried beneath other things, quietly powering the digital world. In that sense, Canonical might have not have lived up to its lofty user goal, but Linux and open source in general already did a long time ago. ®