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.
A 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.
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 is the founder of the Helios Project and Reglue, which for 20 years provided refurbished older computers running Linux to disadvantaged school kids, as well as providing digital help for senior citizens, in the Austin, Texas area. He was a columnist for FOSS Force from 2013-2016, and remains part of our family. Follow him on Twitter: @Reglue