Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Linux is in Bed with Mom

Linux may not be steamrolling the desktop operating system market so far this year, but Linux is definitely making strides in other areas. Linux is quickly proving to be an adaptable platform, useful in many non-standard applications.

Since I started with Linux I have never felt it was ready for the average home user. Not because Linux is complicated or overbearing, but because Microsoft already dominates the home user and the way they think. The one thing Linux does not want to be, is Microsoft. Until that mentality fades, Microsoft will hold their market dominance. Even with bad review after bad review of Windows Vista, it is still a lot more likely to actually work for the average computer user than Linux.

Also, I am starting to believe that Linux doesn't fit the role of a Windows replacement, no matter how many Steve Ballmer jokes the Linux crowd can think up. Linux, due to it's open nature, will never be consistent enough across the board to please hardware and software vendors, along with the average user. Linux, as a day-to-day operating system works only under the careful watch of professional IT staff. Linux is a great business solution.

So, where does this leave Linux in the home? The answer: embedded. Linux is already dominating the wireless device market. Plus, it is creeping into living rooms via video game consoles and various entertainment devices. Most importantly, its invisible to the end user.

Linux is at its best when the user doesn't even know they are using it.

To illustrate the power of Linux as an embedded platform, I present: Splashtop. Soon to be pre-installed on all Asus motherboards. But what is Splashtop?

Simply put, Splashtop, is a highly customized version of Linux, embedded via flash memory on the motherboard and acts as a quasi-bootloader. Instead of booting directly into the BIOS setup or a desktop operating system, the computer boots into Splashtop, a miniature-sized operating system. Splashtop gives access to various programs, such as Firefox for Internet surfing, BIOS/CMOS setup tools, and e-mail.

The best part? Splashtop takes approximately five seconds to boot up. This means that users no longer need to leave their computers logged in, powered up, and in sleep mode if they just use it for basic access. Also of note, no hard drive access is required, pushing the energy efficiency of short, quick boot-ups even further.

Also, with no hard drives in use, there is nothing being accessed on the main system and nothing to be compromised while surfing or checking e-mail. Not to mention, hard drives are notoriously power hungry.

Plus, being built into the motherboard, it pretty much ensures that Splashtop will work with whatever hardware the computer uses.

Embedded Linux is not the only place Linux is starting to appear. Linux is also starting to show up in tandem of Windows, and in more forms than just virtualization through VMWare or Xen. Ulteo, a Linux-based desktop product, fits right on top of various Windows installs and allows Linux to be seamlessly used in conjunction with Windows. From Slashdot:
Ulteo today unveiled their Virtual Desktop which is a free, full Linux desktop that runs seamlessly on Windows. It's interesting because it's not running under Xen or VMWare, but instead uses the coLinux patch, which they claim allows the system to achieve 'great performance, close to a native installation on the PC.' No need to reboot the system anymore to switch from Windows to Linux."
Some might question the value of such a program. Why install one operating system to just install another on top of it? It is a valid point, and one I can't really answer. However, I can state that Windows is not going anywhere soon and it will remain a fact of life for the computer industry for some time. As stated, Linux just is not in a position to take over the market. The current open, Linux distribution system can not support the number of users that Microsoft currently has without some form of compensation outside of donations. At some point, Linux has to adjust.

That does not mean Linux won't remain a viable desktop and server operating system, but the focus may start to shift away from those two applications. I don't have numbers currently on the number of Linux installs worldwide, but if Splashtop starts shipping on one million+ motherboards a month, it is only a matter of time before embedded Linux, outside of the portable device market, far outweighs that of the full-featured Linux distributions.

Ten years from now we may all wonder how we got by without a Splashtop-type startup operating system and while Linux may not be sleeping with our mothers quite yet, Linux is everywhere. Users just may not know it and thats a good thing. The only question that remains; can it run World of Warcraft?


  1. Anonymous10:29 AM

    Yes, I have friends running WoW on their Linux box. I think they are using WINE to get it to work, and they report it runs pretty well.

  2. I actually run WoW through WINE on my laptop. It actually runs better under Linux than it did with Windows XP. Of course it is a mid-ranged laptop.

    I have been meaning to post my install notes for WINE and WoW, plus various Linux distros I've been installing

    WoW is just a gem of a game that can be played straight from it's files, no installing required. Makes it very easy to just copy over to Linux and play through WINE. Or even better, dual boot Linux and run WoW straight from it's Windows folder which I am planning to do on my home PC at some point.

  3. Also, my end question was more of an inside joke at work. We have a ton of old PCs that we've been recycling lately and we always joke with each other: "Wonder if it can run WoW?". Unfortunately, we don't have the time to test :P

    Makes one wonder though if Splashtop will have a way to access something like a 10 GB flash drive with WoW and video drivers on it.

  4. Anonymous2:42 PM

    One day Linux will have a more stable grounds in the computer market. The major thing that hinders Linux would be that fact that they don't have support (via phone or w/e). In the workplace or with older people, feeling secure is top priority. Downtime means loss of money.

  5. Well one of things I don't like about Windows is that the average user doesn't quite understand what they are doing, but it doesn't matter since it "just works". Hence, why I said Windows has taught people a way of thinking... that computers should just work.

    Linux, on the other hand, requires an investment of thought and consideration to be used as a day-to-day operating system. Obviously that is a brick wall for average users, but if they take the time to learn, they usually understand a great deal more about what they are doing on a computer.

    This is why I probably don't like Ubuntu. I think it sets a bad precedent for Linux. In an attempt to simplify and make Linux "just work" for average users, they are setting themselves up for something they can not support long term. Worse of all, they are trying to do it with a kernel and system of applications that historically change faster than hardware/software vendors are willing to change. It is heartbreak at some point.

    I strongly believe, at some point, computer users will be fully responsible for their actions. Ignorance of technology cannot remain a viable excuse.

  6. Anonymous9:18 AM

    Right, even now at my college, a lot of degree programs require a few technical computer class such as programming and introduction to hardware and software. The computer illiteracy that still hinders the workplace will some day be a reason for people to not get hired. And it will be an acceptable reason.

  7. LOL Psuedox. The only computer literacy most people in the workplace need is how to use Microsoft Office and Google. That's pretty much it.

    Being a Techie myself I find it humourous when my fellow technophiles imagine this world where everyone understands networking, programming etc.

    Computers will become more and more automated and eventually your average user will know about as much as your average TV viewer knows about the tv they watch. Thats the future of computers. Everntually all the computers on desks will be intelligent toasters, and all the real technical stuff will be done in the data center by fewer and fewer people.

  8. Sam, I think you are completely wrong and I am not sure where you developed this idea that all an office person needs to know is MS office.

    I work for a college. I know exactly what is in the curriculum for our Office System Technology degree (OST). Microsoft Office is Computers 101, THAT EVERY SINGLE STUDENT IS REQUIRED TO TAKE REGARDLESS OF DEGREE.

    MS Office experience or training is NOT required just for office jobs, it is REQUIRED FOR EVERY JOB. Hence, why I believe ignorance of technology will at some point no longer be an excuse. The one thing Microsoft has right is Office.

    I don't imagine a world where everyone understands programming or networking. I imagine a world where people aren't ignorant to the fact that when they are using a computer they are RESPONSIBLE for what happens. A world where people understand, fully, their input into and output from a computer through whatever software/hardware they are using.

    I also think you are partially wrong on your last statement. The TV analogy is spot on, but that is home use. Everything for the home has to eventually become hassle free and "just work".

    However, in the business world, the desktop unit being used will be just as powerful as a server at some point, and in some cases they already are. The true future of computing in the business world is in users being given the tools to use their workstation to the its fullest potential.

    Trust me, the era of home computing being just like work computing, is going to end. Computers are becoming far too powerful in the business place to be restricted to home-use applications. A divide will occur and has already started.

  9. I guess we'll disagree heartless. I've worked in state and federal govt and the private sector for 15 years now. The holy grail for most management teams is easy moron proof systems that any uneducated user can do thier work with. In fact I predict that within 20 years 80 percent of the workforce won't even have internet access because it will be considered unneccessary and a security risk. Go to any distribution center and look at the systems they set up for their users to work. they have Email, access to the client and office. No reason for most of the workforce to have anything else. And that holds true in almost every industry. Thier will always be specialized jobs that need more but most jobs will never need all that other stuff.

    Why does someone need to understand how the input works? Why do they need to understand where it goes? Most jobs at most companies are just cogs in the machine. A bigger broader understanding is nice but only required of the people that fix it, manage it or build it. The worker bees just have to do thier piece to keep the machine working. As technology gets more and more a part of life, specialization will become more and more the norm and generalists will become very rare.

    Time will prove one of us wrong.


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