Sunday, 27 November 2011

Linux - Is It Still Standing Strong?

Windows has been predominantly the OS of choice for most of us. Linux too has been around and it has struggled on the desktop space. Things haven’t turned out as well as Linux hoped. I have been on both sides for long periods of time. There is no denying Linux’s success on the server side of things. Many expected Linux to be an easy replacement for Windows, but for a number of reasons, it hasn’t been so. 

Too open for its own good
Linux, because of the way it has been developed has different faces in the form of distributions. On one hand, there are still distributions that require a certain level of expertise just to install and there are some others like Ubuntu, which have toned down to the level of any other Windows OS installation. The distributions that are getting the most attention are a handful. Ubuntu is most definitely the largest one in the crowd. For the rest of them, there seems to be no direction of development. There are many distributions that are similar to each other while there are some that are complete opposites.
Desktop dominance - still out of reach
Desktop dominance - still out of reach

Ubuntu has come a long way in the sense that installing the OS is no longer a painstaking process as it is with many other distributions. The other distributions should try and follow this mind of thought. A channeled effort in such areas would make it an easier operating system to make transition to. 

Linux has its many advantages. The most obvious one is the virus-free, secure environment where you don’t need to use an antivirus or firewall just to stay secure. The other advantage it had was the stability but recent Windows kernels offer the same level of stability. Reboots and blue screens which were common in the Windows 95 era are a thing of the past. 

On the other hand, the disadvantage while switching over to Linux is that a new user faces is the lack of fresh applications for Linux. Windows being a much more stable operating system than it used to be means that there’s even less a reason for users to switch over to Linux. Linux on the desktop is then dying a slow death where there aren’t many new adopters, but just the existing loyal users. 

Influence of user interfaces
There are some other things that influence a user to use an operating system. The success of an operating system does also have a lot to with how it looks and how it is also doing with the interface of the operating systems in use. The Windows operating system uses a traditional method of accessing programs. This was started back in the Windows 95 era. Today, mobile operating systems are way more simplistic in the way look and the way you interact with them. In fact, we’ve seen a transformation in the desktop OS space as well. For the sake of saving workspace and making things more intuitive, Linux distributions such as Jolicloud, Ubuntu Netbook Edition adopted a completely different approach. A similar approach is now being adopted into the mainstream desktop version of Ubuntu in the form of the Unity user interface. There are fewer menus and submenus and applications and features are easily accessible through the click or two. 

While these are moves in the right direction, it’s hard to deny that Linux as a desktop OS is slowly diminishing. 

The Camouflaged Linux - Android
While some of us have written off Linux as a solid Windows replacement, it’s a pleasant surprise to find Linux stronger than ever in a different avatar. We’ve completely ignored the mobile platform space. It’s mainly dominated by Android, iOS and a couple of other platforms. Android is easily one of the largest and it’s also one of the most open source ones. Android is in fact based on the Linux framework. Unlike all other desktop distributions that were developed bit by bit, Android was branched off and developed in isolation. When it was launched and even today, not too many users realize that it is in fact Linux running in the backend. What you see is just a cloaked interface. iOS, the OS used on Apple’s popular iPod, iPhone and iPads is extracted from the desktop OS – Mac OS X, which is turn is a distant of Linux. 

The Android Wiki itself is scattered with information of Linux. It’s not only Android and the iOS which are related to Linux. Even the upcoming Blackberry tablet will be powered by QNX, another remotely related to the Unix branch. Windows Phone 7 isn’t a direct descendant of the desktop Windows operating system. 

Maybe, that’s what Linux needed from the very beginning – a distribution that was isolated from the rest and worked on thoroughly. Google did things its own way, and finally released a refined product. Android doesn’t look anything like any Linux distribution you’ll see today. 

If all of the popular mobile and tablet OS’ are offshoots of the Linux framework, and if we go by figures, Linux could very well be much bigger than Windows. Maybe, Linux isn’t doing as bad as we thought then?

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