Is Linux the OS of Ubiquitous Computing?

As Christian Einfeldt of Digital Tipping Point recently noted, when Amazon published its Christmas wish lists, Linux devices figured prominently. And it seems like Linux is indeed all around us. Apple showed us Unix could look gorgeous; Nokia has used it as the basis for an open handset; Linksys opened up its routers to modders; and dozens of consumer devices rely on Linux at their core.

Three major trends are at work here:

  • First, with more of our lives taking place online, the computer desktop is a commodity. As long as Facebook looks the same, most people don’t mind switching from one machine to another.
  • Second, what we value in a device is changing. The Asus EEE 4G-Galaxy runs Xandros Linux and the XO computer from the One Laptop Per Child initiative runs Fedora Linux. We’re looking for lower cost and lower power consumption — neither of which Vista seems to be delivering.
  • And third, Linux is finally ready for consumers. Ubuntu is one example. And many devices that run Linux today, from digital picture frames to small-business phone switches, aren’t even recognizable as computers.

Mark Weiser of Xerox PARC coined the term ubiquitous computing, stating that, “The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” Central to this idea is the notion that one person has many computers. Weiser said that in contrast to traditional, computer-centric ideas of computing, “invisible” computing tries to “make a computer so imbedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it.”

Weiser would probably have recognized today’s consumer, reading their gmail from a dozen machines without caring what OS they were running, as an important step in this shift.