Blog Post

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.

11 Responses to “Is Linux the OS of Ubiquitous Computing?”

  1. Android will bring Linux mainstream. Its deep integration with Google services will transform the mobile sector. It may even find its way into new classes of devices, not just phones.

  2. hey i have used the linux and its not all that bad~~~but windows feels much more homely (comfortable) may be its the addiction. but the best part of linux is that its free~~and i agree the linux needs to be marketed like crazy because windows is so imbedded in the computer world

  3. Dimitrios Matsoulis

    If hardware manufacturers are really interested to promote Linux it would not harm to state clearly that a device is using it. For example the Nokia N810 should state this much more blatantly. It is a desirable device and it would help. I think that the fact that people use Linux without knowing is a negative point in the drive for its adoption.

  4. @Yuvamani – Actually you can go full screen with the linux adobe flash player – someone has been misleading you.

    “In fact web video sucks on Linux…” – how so? It is no different than on windows or mac – now, if what you ment to say was “Web video sucks” then i would have to agree with you, but blaming linux for the crap that ends up on the web is a little unfair.

    As for your last paragraph – surely that is the whole point, the users ignorance is irrelevant.

  5. Yuvamani

    MacOSX is not Linux based – But BSD based. In lots of ways its a completely different beast. Mentioning it in your examples seem misleading.

    Linux has been great when it has disappeared and the user does not know he is using Linux. A great example of this is the Tivo or the linksys router. Expect Linux to get even greater traction in the CE and devices market. The manufacturer in these markets can make up for Linux’s shortcomings, Ironically Linux is used in these markets to create a completely closed experience. A few Hacks aside, A Tivo is a closed system.

    On the other hand the desktop market is a completely different beast. The openness of the Desktop and Notebook experience is where Linux falters. Walt Mossberg gave Ubuntu a whirl and came away disappointed. I have been running Ubunutu on my home computer for a while now and the problems I have faced with getting hardware / printers to work / to work correctly still give me nightmares. Even today my Ubuntu system cannot take full advantage of my desktop hardware because of driver issues.
    The EEEPC is interesting, But again suffers from the problems associated with Linux. Take for example Adobes Flash. The newer versions of flash allow me to go fullscreen with hardware acceleration on both Mac and Windows. This feature is not available on Linux – In fact web video sucks on Linux…

    Linux might become ubiquitous but only in a form where you do not really know you are using linux. Take for example Google Docs. It is linux which is powering the whole experience from the server forward, But the user will be blissfully unaware of the fact … Or even take a mobile phone os. You might use Android or the new Palm OS or the new Access OS or Motorolas Linux os etc etc. But as far as the user is concerned all these are disparate os’s..

  6. I agree with this, but its even further than the points you touch on here. User experience seems to be what will drive the adoption of Linux into more and more areas. Considering that ability of much of what is out now, I wouldn’t be surprised if others carried that mantra that Linux is “best” for ubiquitous computing because of its open and modular nature.

    Thanks for writing this. It confirms a lot of my thoughts.

  7. Absolutely! The main thing holding back widespread Linux (Ubuntu) on desktops is a solid Office suite. I’m surprised IBM or Google has not accelerated this software hastily, IBM especially. There are other set backs with open source that comes with the territory, but someone needs to put the finishing touches on Ubuntu and OpenOffice and market it like crazy.

    The browser is becoming the only client software necessary. Then, who cares what OS is on the machine.