FOSS Force News Wire

February 16th, 2016

Year of Linux Depends on How You Define Linux

The Heart of Linux

It didn’t happen slowly. On the contrary, it was a thunderbolt…a deep, thrumming, resounding sense of being right, of being at the right place at the right time. A sense of finding something that you knew without doubt would be important in your life. There wasn’t any need to “think it through” or “evaluate the situation.” The moment I realized the power under my fingertips, even my self-identity changed. With that moment growing like a supernova inside of me, I fully took on that new identity. As that blazing power exploded from within me, I knew who I was. I was now a firebrand. It was six years ago this month that I knew who I was.

I was a Linux Advocate. I just opted out of the cape.

It didn’t take me long to realize the uphill trudge I had ahead of me. The battle between GNU Linux and just Linux was enough to confuse any convert-to-be in front of me. When it takes more than a few sentences to explain something to almost anyone, their interest wanes quickly. It doesn’t help that I was trying to sell subscriptions to a divided camp either.

Android mascotA helpful tip for those coming of age as a Linux Advocate: Temper your rhetoric when explaining just how much Microsoft sucks. It’s easy to come off as a wild-eyed zealot. These are lessons in advocacy learned rather quickly. And yeah…, that whole wide-eyed zealot thing? It didn’t work out so well for me. Nor will it for you.

As I did then, I still do.

I still despise many Microsoft business practices, which goes beyond their underhanded, bullying ways to include their lack of shame in bludgeoning their customers to bend to Redmond’s will. The recent realization that many Windows users won’t have any choice in being roughly shoved over into Windows 10…. That in itself is bad enough, or it should be…for most people anyway. Microsoft has many, many feet to shoot it seems, so they can shoot themselves in the foot as often as they like. They have spares. I am coming to believe they have cracked the DNA code for human limb regeneration.

As it became more difficult to sway more than a small handful of people, I came to the realization that it wasn’t an “I use it at work” thing. It wasn’t an “all my friends and family use Windows” thing. It was and still is, the “pain of learning something new” thing. The more I inwardly despaired due to my inadequacies, the more I began to doubt that we would ever see any significant uptake of desktop Linux.

The whole “year of Linux” question became old about the third time I heard it. And for the record, the year of Linux was actually 2001. It was the year Steve Ballmer publicly announced, “Linux is a cancer that attaches itself in an intellectual property sense to everything it touches.” The moment Microsoft admitted they had a fear of Linux, as anyone would have a fear of cancer, Linux was green-lighted. It just took a lot of the people at the top time to realize it. Ballmer’s schoolboy insult probably did more to introduce Linux to the public than anything I would do in the next five years. I mean, what do you expect me to do? Have an Indianapolis 500 race car put Tux on the nose cone?

Funny thing though…those expectations of Linux becoming a major choice on the desktop computer environment. There are times we are so focused on the obvious approach vector that we fail to see that approach coming from our flank.


It’s almost silly to repeat the obvious, but there is little doubt that Apple changed the world with the iPhone. The realm previously dominated by Blackberry exploded when the iPhone was introduced to the marketplace. I’m having trouble finding the article it appeared in, but when Warren Buffet was asked how Apple could even dream of displacing Blackberry, Buffet answered succinctly: “Buy Apple stock. Buy a lot of Apple stock now. Put down the microphone and go buy a as much Apple stock as you can afford.”

Buffet ain’t one the top 10 richest men in the universe for nuttin’ honey.

The rest of the story is well-known and of course, Warren Buffet was correct. Blackberry was slapped aside with impunity and Apple became the no-doubt king of wireless technology. They seemed invulnerable. The entire developed planet stood in two mile long lines, some while freezing in January weather…many just to receive a rain check for a device that had been sold out five hours earlier. Some received as many as three rain checks in New York City before they actually had an iPhone in their hands. It bordered on mental instability to even think that Apple and their flagship product, the iPhone, could ever be challenged.

Then along came Google with Android.

Google, of course, did not write the Android code or base. Android was not born on the Google Campus. Android is the lovechild of Andy Rubin, who even went as far as inking a deal with T-Mobile to demonstrate how flexible and promising Android could be. Due to many things not made public, that T-mobile phone went the way of the dodo, but in the end and after some amazingly coincidental incidents, Google ended up buying Android from Rubin for $50 million and the rest, they say, is hysterical.

The funny part of this? Rubin had first approached Samsung with an offer to purchase or invest in Android and they sent him away like a brush salesman. How different would the world be if Samsung had been the one to purchase Android instead of Google?

A year and a month after Apple unleashed the iPhone onto the market, Google had the unmitigated gall to announce the Android phone. Former players in the telephone wireless market were doomed. Microsoft all but pulled their handset from the market and Blackberry slid down a splinter infested fireman’s pole into obscurity. Two giants stand at the Gate of Wireless handsets and tablets today, Google (as in Android) and Apple. Android, being completely FOSS, now finds itself on 85% of the world’s smartphones. That doesn’t mean anything to Apple. While their OS is indeed closed, they rule the roost when it comes to income from their iPhone. Their doom is nowhere in sight.

“So Ken,” you may ask. “What does that have to do with desktop Linux or Linux in general? Well, as it turns out, it has plenty to do with it, but not in the ways we ever expected. Remember that whole hoo-ha over the Year Of Linux? Just lose that phrase. Forget it and forget it was ever of any importance. The year of Linux has come and gone. A number of times it seems.

It is no secret that Android is based on the Linux kernel. Having a Linux product on the vast majority of smartphones in the world is a historic accomplishment. Some could argue that Linux, in the form of Android, has already placed Linux as the number one operating system in the world…just not on the desktop.

But wait…



In 2012, the Chromebook began to gather steam in the laptop/netbook market. What was dismissed as a bare-bones Internet-dependent paperweight in 2011, the Chromebook, and surprisingly the Chromebook Pixel, began taking on market real estate. School districts in the US, even small school districts such as the one in which I live, are ditching the 13 inch MacBooks in favor of the Chromebook. The Taylor (Texas) Independent School District purchased 400 Chromebooks and 50 Chromebook Pixels in 2015. The Austin school district made similar purchases a year earlier, and according to Neil Massy, a friend and a tech guy for the Austin district, they are exceedingly happy with the Chromebooks and only provide the MacBook to grumbling staff members who insist they cannot work on anything else.

But wait…there’s more.

Seven months ago, a good friend from Florida emailed me and asked me if I had seen the Asus Chromebox. No, I told him, I had not, but I would follow the link and see what it is all about. It’s not ‘xactly revolutionary. These small “lunchbox” computers have been around for a while, but the push for these were ChromeOS. Now, I can safely state that 40 percent of the younger kids my non profit helps will not need anything more than this machine for the next few years. The younger ones are learning the art of Internet, and there is no need for eight gigs of RAM and the latest and greatest processor. We are currently working with a well known company to supply us some of the 2GB memory, dual core models. These will be perfect for these kids, and if the 10 donated units come to pass, I will keep everyone updated as to how these machines were received and ultimately used.

These are, once again, Chromebox computers running the ChromeOS. Should I need to mention it again, those mini-computers run on a Linux based operating system. Pertaining to the Chromebox, Amazon is reporting “an unexpectedly high sales volume” for these computers So, is this the “year of Linux?”

Geek please. That came and went. A lot. We were just busy looking the wrong way.

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Ken Starks writes and publishes The Blog of Helios, a finalist in our Best FOSS or Linux Blog competition. In addition, he's the person behind the Reglue project, which refurbishes older computers and gives them to disadvantaged school kids in the Austin, Texas area. Follow him on Twitter @Reglue

17 comments to Year of Linux Depends on How You Define Linux

  • DocB

    Is it really the ‘learn something new thing’?
    I doubt.
    Windows 8 was highly disruptive in useability – I would even consider it as unuseable on a PC. Probable the reason why W10 goes nore back into the W7 direction.
    Nevertheless, the people took the pain and stayed with W8.
    Probably it is the lack of known alternatives, plus the FUD spread spread by MS. And, for a small part, the unavailability of the software on the alternative system.
    And maybe even the name ‘Linux’ is burned as nerd stuff.
    Lets see how ‘Chromebook’ develops. It sells you to Goolge instead of Microsoft

  • Mike S.

    @Ken Starks,
    I’m pretty sure the story of Warren Buffett and Apple Stock is an urban legend. He avoids technology stocks, he prefers to invest in industries he understands very well and he is by his own admission not an expert in technology. Can anyone find the source for that supposed quote?

    The problem with Chrome OS is that it ties users into Google services. Instead of generations of children graduating thinking Microsoft is the end-all-be-all of computing, they will have Google in the same position and at best that’s only marginally better. What schools should really have is Chrome OS plus their own hosted email, OwnCloud,, EtherPad, EtherCalc, HackerSlides (i.e. free software web-based equivalents to Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Slides).

  • Randal

    I agree on Warren Buffet, as he is famous for not getting tech and in part, that is how his and Bill Gates friendship developed.
    I also think Chromebooks do have downfalls. They really on internet connections (and you have family’s that have problems with finances, guess what one of the first things to go will be). This will limit, ability to do homework, when life gets in the way. But some Chromebooks can had certain Linux distro’s put on them (so one will need SD cards or some external storage, as not all can be upgraded)
    Yes, the Windows 8 interface was horrible and it drove people to find freeware/shareware, and open source options (both OS and desktop converters). I think I fear Windows 10 more.
    Now they are only going to allow 10 on certain processors (no 7 or 8). While they are trying to kill their non yearly products and haven’t started charging, I wonder if once they start, what the next step is?
    My guess would be when they decide the hardware should be end of life, then you pay for updates. This opens the door for companies to offer them money to declare computers EOL probably after 2 years.

  • Mike

    “Android, being completely FOSS”

    Android is not FOSS.

    Part of android (the AOSP) is FOSS, but the thing that ends up on devices is anything but.

    There are two main pieces of Android that are problems:

    1) Google’s services (just like the problem with Chrome).

    2) Proprietary drivers and firmware baked into the kernel.

    It is nearly impossbile to build a phone/tablet using pure FOSS because of the hardware manufacturers unwillingness to cooperate.

  • Mike S.

    The manufacturers aren’t cooperating on all of the rest of the hardware, but on the cellular network modems, in many countries it’s illegal for them to cooperate. Since these are software-defined radios, if you have the source code you can change frequencies and potentially interfere with other people’s cell reception, or block fire department radios, and so forth. So the software is mandated to be locked down.

    I understand the logic behind it, but I disagree. The government doesn’t take away private car ownership because illegal weapons can be transported in cars. Likewise, open source cellular modem software should be legal, using your cellular modem to interfere with emergency services should be a crime.

    The manufacturer won’t let me run open source drivers on my HTC phone’s camera. But the FCC won’t let me run open source drivers on my HTC phone’s CDMA modem (or whatever you call them).

  • Mike

    @Mike S.

    True, there are legal obstructions as well.

    It’s unfortunate because it prevents any real degree of freedom and privacy on mobile platforms because in every case I am aware of, the cellular modem not only has closed firmware but is also capable of reading and manipulating all of memory accessible to the CPU. That is a really bad combination that can potentially enable all sorts of nasty stuff.

  • Mike S.

    Agreed. It means among other things that corrupt governments, corrupt law enforcement officials in otherwise lawful governments, and criminals have a permanent weapon for complete remote control of any person’s phone.

  • “The recent realization that many Windows users won’t have any choice in being roughly shoved over into Windows 10…”

    It’s not like you walk away from your computer and come back to Windows 10. It downloads the update automatically, but it still requires human interaction to install…

  • Mike S.

    Actually, that’s not true. Microsoft has had a series of buggy updates that have auto started the Windows 10 installs on some customer computers. It happened to my wife’s computer – it upgraded from Windows 7 to Windows 10 without prompting for permission.

    But the truth is, I don’t think most people care. We’re all collectively Cassandra, warning a population that won’t listen. If I can’t convince my wife the privacy violations, unethical usage restrictions, forced planned obsolescence, and tracking enabled by proprietary software are unacceptable then I sure can’t expect other people to care.

  • CFWhitman

    Besides the users who never thought they agreed to use Windows 10 and got it anyway, there are also the inexperienced users who, when they see as choices only “Install Now” and “Install tonight” don’t realize that their third choice is to press the “X” in the upper right hand corner of the dialog box.

  • CFWhitman

    Just to make it clear to the uninitiated, proprietary drivers and firmware are not technically “baked into the kernel” (that would be illegal), but since they are thrown in there among low level files, and are necessary for the operation of the hardware, your point stands.

  • Mike S.

    Thanks for correcting me on that.

  • Mike


    I politely disagree. Proprietary firmware is, as a matter of course, baked into the kernel. Even the vanilla linux kernel sources contain such. It is excused through a very questionable and objectionable loophole in that firmware does not actually execute on your CPU, so isn’t held to the same rules as the rest of the GPL2 licensed kernel as it isn’t considered ‘source’. Personally I think the distinction is complete BS.

    This is why the following project exists:

    Unfortunately, very few linux distros care about the distinction. Debian and Trisquel do. Frighteningly, even Tails does not, preferring to opt for greater hardware support and convenience, vs. security and privacy.

  • henry kurth

    So Mike, you want a pure OS? Go with OpenBSD.

    Beyond that, what’s the point of this article? Anyone who follows the Linux world at all knows that Android is a linux-like OS, as is Chrome. So what? It doesn’t really improve Linux or make it a more desirable OS for typical computer users anymore than the fact that OS/X is built off of FreeBSD makes FreeBSD a more desirable OS for typical users. Very few people want to spend any time editing *.conf files and the user friendly alternative, PCBSD will never even mark Linux user share and I doubt Windows have ever heard of it.

  • Mike


    Not really interested in the BSD’s and I see no reason to switch from Linux. Linux-libre makes it easy enough to run a kernel with no proprietary bits. I just wish more distros saw the point: e.g. Arch, Mint, Ubuntu, Tails, Slackware, etc.

    I generally ran Debian until the slow-moving train wreck that is systemd came along. Now I typically compile my entire OS from scratch using LFS with a custom automated approach I built that uses a de-blobbed kernel, among other changes.

  • Ben

    If the point of GNU was to let users control their own computers, and not let companies/developers force things upon you, then Google ChromeOS and Android are not good examples. Chromebooks are great, but they don’t let users make many decisions for themselves, which is kinda the opposite of what free software is about. Google’s better than Microsoft, but your computer’s still being controlled by someone else. I’d say the year of Linux is yet to come (eg when people know that they use it)

  • Eddie G.

    In reference to the Year Of The Linux Desktop, yeah I concur, it’s happened already, and its a moot point. For those who are still looking? You’re disillusioned and won’t see it if it heads straight towards you in a luxury cruiser going at mach 4……there’s no reason to keep rehashing this issue, we knew we “won” when you had the leader of the world’s largest software company MENTION the existence of Linux! Everything else was just “gravy”. And with the numerous versions of the Linux desktop environment there really IS a flavor for every taste / preference. I to am a Linux Advocate, but I wait until the “poop” hits the fan….wen those Windows users are literally close to tears, and they come seeking me out for assistance. Then? its a lot easier for them to grasp the concept of FOSS and running an OS that won’t crash & burn in the space of a few years.