Bonum Certa Men Certa

The Androidisation of GNU/Linux

Android screenshot



Summary: Assessment of what is happening to what we once called "Linux" and collectively advocated as a pathway to digital freedom

When GNU/Linux becomes just Linux, loses the Free software (proprietary and DRM promoted by stores with remotely-controlled kill switches instead), and even limits access to the source code or discourages development from outside Google, are we really winning? That depends. The FSF has a love-hate relationship with Google based on its recent statements. It's a very important subject right now and Groklaw says: "Now it's Microsoft and all its venal little helpers and proxies attacking Google and Android. Linux back in 2003 had nobody to stand up for it. But Google doesn't need our help. I'm sure it wouldn't mind, but they have plenty of money and they can hire whatever they need or just buy it. I was willing to accept the threats and the danger and the smear campaigns I've had to experience when it was for the community. But I don't feel the same, if I see I'm not needed, and I see it. Android has won. No matter what tricks Microsoft may pull going forward, the world knows now that when there was free choice in the marketplace, people chose Android, which runs on Linux, over Microsoft's phone. Nothing they do can change that. All they can prove perhaps is that dirty tricks and misuse of the courts and regulatory bodies can distort the marketplace. But without the benefits of a monopoly, people don't actually choose Microsoft phones, at least not in comparison to Android. All they can do about that now is try to force you to use their products. That's in a way what a monopoly is."



OHA was announced a few years ago. It was to be led by Google and it received a lot of press, which Steve Ballmer dismissed at the time, calling it just some words on paper. But Google's Android has come a long way since then, even if not under the "OHA" banner. Android played a role in weakening some counterparts like LIMO and MeeGo, which were developed more closely with Linux.

“I was willing to accept the threats and the danger and the smear campaigns I've had to experience when it was for the community.”
      --Pamela Jones, Groklaw
Techrights is concerned that, despite its enthusiasm for Android, the platforms from Google redefine what we once knew as "Linux" or "Free (as in freedom) software". We are not necessarily moving towards greater openness -- let alone freedom -- except in numbers. In other words, it could be argued more and more people use less restrictive software if Android becomes a "monopoly" as Gartner already labels it (this is a negative word which paints Google as an offender). But on the other hand, Google's Android is not as open as a platform can be; far from it. And while nothing ever changed much in terms of antifeatures (Google insists on it when it rebuts the smears, and quite rightly so), Techrights believes that having more Linux contenders in the mobile space (e.g. multiplicity for diversity) would be beneficial. In a sense, Google has done to mobile Linux what Canonical has done to desktop Linux. Red Hat probably has not had quite the same effect on Linux servers; it's open to debate really. Some make accusations out of that (e.g. Canonical is killing Mandriva) and some look at the positive sides, e.g. Ubuntu consolidates and offers GNU/Linux increased uniformity.

As the Linux brand is weakened along with other OS entities/brands (e.g. Microsoft and Ubuntu from Canonical), Android takes over and its sibling, Chrome OS, is hardly relevant at this stage, but that too is locked down.

Are we winning the "Linux battle"? And if so, which one? What is the achieved goal? The "year of Linux on the desktop"? The "year of Linux everywhere"? The "year of Linux on the most widely-used form factor"?

Moreover, what are our yardsticks for success? It is the extent of use (e.g. overall number of users)? Or the degree of freedom made available to a willing user of existing products? These are open questions and those who spent a considerable part of their lives advocating "Linux" ought to ponder the crossroad where we all stand together.

When it comes to market share, Microsoft is the #1 threat.

When it comes to freedom within consumer products, Apple is probably the #1 threat.

When it comes to fair play and consumer rights, both Microsoft and Apple are villains. For a start, both are suing Linux, using software patents. As we noted the other day (although very briefly), Apple gets away with what would otherwise be a good lesson for Apple regarding software patents. There is yet another site that's dedicated to Apple patents and it says:

A video display with a ~1.5-to-1 aspect ratio was non-obvious in 1995???

As mentioned in the prior post on these cases, one of the two asserted patents is US 5,825,427, titled Image display system.

Generally, when I see news coverage of a patent suit, I also find some misplaced outrage in the article or its comments based on just the title or abstract of the asserted patent. When possible, I do my part to defend the patent system, pointing out that the actual claims being asserted are far narrower than the title, abstract, or news article imply, and that the patent system is, to a large extent, doing its job.


The Twitter user who highlighted the above in the context of the "swpat" hashtag added: "Apple accused of infringing incredibly broad patent but gets no press. What if it was Google." If it was Google, the horde which includes Microsoft Florian would launch another dirty disinformation campaign. Groklaw knows a coordinated attack when it sees one, having witnessed this for the past 8 years. As a side note, we would like to send our gratitude to Pamela Jones who inspired those who created Techrights. Her work or at least her impact will carry on.

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