Is Android the Future of Linux?ΒΆ

By now, several weeks ago, in correspondence Matt Lundin that he thought Android was probably future of Linux,” mostly as a throw away line. This feels like a really bold statement, [1] and I’ve enjoyed thinking about Android and “the future of Linux.” [2]

On the face of it, Android is the future of Linux. Android is the Linux that most people will interact with before all others in a concrete manner. In all likelihood The future of Linux is probably mostly in running web servers, virtualization hosts, and any other server that matters. At this point, Linux’s platform support and use cases is far less interesting than its prevalence: the ubiquity of Linux, GNU, and BusyBox, is more import an that the fact that Linux runs everywhere in hundreds of different usage profiles.

And really, “desktop Linux” or even “Linux for end-users,” is something of a distraction. We don’t all have to use Linux on the machines beneath our fingers for Linux to be successful. I’m a desktop Linux user because it’s the right system for the work I do, and I can’t work the way I need to with any other kind of system. But I use my systems in a very peculiar way and the thing that makes Linux ideal for me (and the people who are good at building Linux systems,) is not necessarily the qualities that make the best Linux distributions for most users.

As someone who cares about Linux adoption and the use of free software, I don’t want my argument to lead to the very common “let non-technical users use Macs” argument. Although it’s true that OS X can be a convincing introduction to power and use of having a full UNIX-like system on your lap: this was my root (as it were.) Rather, I think that the way to encourage Linux adoption is to increase computer literacy until users respect and value and power that Linux-based systems offer.

Easier said than done, of course.

If this is the case, then Android isn’t a very good introduction to Linux-based operating systems. Not because it’s bad software, but because the kernel is pretty irrelevant to the overall user experience, or the interface that most users have.

Regardless, while madalu is probably right, I don’t think it matters. Android is largely orthogonal to the adoption of Linux. The bigger questions are:

  • Does Microsoft have a tablet strategy? Really? The last time Linux made headway into users’ hands (i.e. netbooks,) Microsoft changed strategies, and not only pushed Linux-based systems out of the market, but they also basically killed the device class. Netbooks really aren’t a thing anymore.
  • How close are we to tablet-like (or tablet-derived) devices from replacing general purpose computers for some classes of day to day activity. I suspect corporate machines will be the first to fall (more constrained/specific use cases; tablet systems give IT administrators more control, and increasingly work happens in web apps.)

If corporate fleets are the first to fall, the first question becomes much more important. In any case, stay tuned, I’m working on collecting the rest of my thoughts on these questions. In the mean time, I’d look forward to hearing from you.

Onward and Upward!

[1]I would like to fully apologize ahead of the time if I’m characterizing the argument unfairly.
[2]Though mostly ceremonial to mark the 20th anniversary, and because there have been 39 releases of the 2.6.x series kernel which is absurd to keep track of after a while, Linux is getting a version boost to version 3.x.

2011-09-06

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tychoish is a blog about software, science fiction, community, music, knitting, and economies with particular attention to their past and future histories. Produced in Brooklyn by tycho garen.

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