Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Is Google's Android OS the "Linux Desktop" that will challenge Microsoft?

There is a case to be made for it:

Android the real Linux desktop threat to Windows
[...] Aside from being an open source Linux distribution, which is already starting to gain traction in the mobile phones space, Android has the backing of Google. And as Microsoft well knows Google is no Canonical, Novell or Red Hat. Google is a heavyweight - it's a powerful company with considerable resources.


From most accounts and my own experience Android is intuitive and user friendly on mobile hardware such as the HTC Dream. However, there is no doubt that Android compared to full blown operating systems like Windows, Mac OSX or Ubuntu Linux is still very much a lightweight.

It is also true, however, that the trend of desktop computing is toward mobility - notebooks and netbooks. In the era of hotspots and ubiquitous Internet, consumers and business users alike want something they can take on the road with them.

The trend to netbooks and low-power consumption mobile devices favours lightweight operating systems. Users - particularly sub-notebook users - want to do much if not most of their work in the cloud. They may not be able to do everything, such as watch DVDs or play games, but they can still accomplish most of what's required to run their part of the business they work in.

Likening Android to Windows is like comparing Google Apps to Microsoft Office - it's not quite there yet. Steve Ballmer is wrong when he says Google Docs can't even do a footnote, but his point that Microsoft Word is much more powerful is well taken - for now. However, for many, myself included, Google Docs, Calendar and Gmail are more than good enough.

The critical success factors behind operating systems are device drivers and applications. More than anything else, this has been the downfall of Ubuntu and the other Linux distribution hopefuls.

Starting from the mobile phones environment and working upward, Android, backed by Google, is likely to succeed where other Linux distributions have failed. It is likely to garner support from both device manufacturers and applications vendors.

It's early days and there's a long way to go but if a Linux desktop is ever to make an impact in the mainstream, then it is likely to be Android. Ironically, by the time it takes the mantle of market leader from Microsoft, the cloud may well have made the desktop a thing of the past.

It makes some good points. But the "cloud" may not be embraced by everyone, for everything; it's a concept that's still evolving.

One of the comments left at the end of the article made a few good points on that:

[...] As for netbooks, they are such incapable pieces of hardware that the only way to get any real work done on any of them is to use them as dumb terminals, or slow-witted terminals, for the cloud. But, as Richard Stallman, one of the founding fathers of the open-source movement, has railed about, the cloud surrenders control to a corporate third party and promises a vassal-ship to corporate authority that will be, if anything, more subjugating than the rein of Microsoft has wrought. The cloud not only presents problems of reliability; it also will, I think, prove in many cases to be more expensive than shrink-wrapped software, and it gives a corporation, almost certainly a powerful one like Google or Amazon, possession and control of your data and your applications and, through the use of proprietary APIs, will lock your data and applications to that corporation.

Servers and networks get more expensive and more prone to failure as they scale and the intensity of use increases, and, thus, comes a dramatic increase the price of the service. And because the could will consists at best of an oligopoly of few corporations and because users' data and apps will be locked to that corporation's particular cloud, i.e., network, servers, and OS, users, who foolishly surrender their independence to the some corporation's cloud, will be able to do nothing but pay the price that their could vendor demands. And for that king's ransom, users will get a cloud that becomes less reliable as it becomes more popular.

But the main tenor of Stallman's criticism, which is related to oligopolistic control, is that once your rely on a cloud for your data and applications, you're owned. As tough as it is or is perceived to be to switch from Windows to OS X, Unix, or Linux, that is nothing compared to trying switch when all your data and your business critical apps are in a cloud. When you are completely in the cloud, you don't have anything left to switch. And for consumers, they may be spared paying the full costs of cloud computing, but they will pay instead with their personal information and by ceding the right to access them with advertisements 24/7, I am with Dr. Stallman: This rush towards cloud-computing is foolishness and the greatest hidden form of slavery to be foisted on users of computers since, well, Windows.

If the cloud is what netbooks shall bring, I suggest that we all take a pass.

The cloud could have some uses, but I doubt it will be all things to all people. There will always be people who, quite sensibly IMO, want direct access to and control of their own data, without relying on a 3rd party's infrastructure to provide that access and control.

Also see:

Google: Android is “the Linux Desktop Dream Come True”

The Linux Desktop Came on Little Cat Feet

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Bravo, i've been looking for an article that makes this point so fiercly! I'll be passing this link along to all the mindless end users I know.