Tag Archives: linux

Google floats an operating system for geeks who can’t dance without a beat

by Steve Blum • , ,

If you’re reading this, it’s courtesy of one of two operating systems that were born in the Rhythmless Void between the break up of the Beatles and the Great Disco Awakening: UNIX or CP/M. (Unless you are truly an uber geek and still rocking your Commodore 64 or pre-OS X Apple or something even more esoteric – I genuflect in abject admiration. Or unless you’re a masochist and you’re reading this on a Blackberry: I salute your embrace of pain and humiliation).

Microsoft Windows is a direct descendent of CP/M, although little of the original DNA is left. Pretty much everything else is within two or three degrees of consanguinity with UNIX. Mac OS, iOS, Android, Tizen and Linux all exchanged presents in their pyjamas on Christmas morning.

It’s been a long, long time (sorry, I’ll always have Linda Ronstadt on the brain – it’s a Seventies thing) since anyone wrote a new OS kernel with staying power. But Google is giving it a try. Google posted Fuchsia OS as an open source project on GitHub this past summer, and it is still under active development. It’s an operating system that’s been built from scratch, without obvious reference to the Glitter Rock era. According to a post on Linux.com by Sam Dean

Could Google be completely reinventing the core functionality of what we consider to be an operating system? There are certainly historical precedents for that. When Google launched a beta release of Gmail in 2004, Hotmail, Yahoo! Mail, AOL Mail and other services had absolutely dominant positions in the online email space. Look what happened. Google reimagined online email. Likewise, Chrome OS reimagined the operating system with unprecedented security features and cloud-centricity.

It’s worth watching, even if it’s not strictly necessary. I’ll happily live out my years with just a stack of Linda’s 8-tracks beside me.

Will you?

Mr. Robot offers a field guide to the phonies of the geek world

by Steve Blum • , ,

A Holden Caufield for the 21st century.


Hollywood’s latest excursion into geekdom is Mr. Robot, a new series on the USA Network. I only saw the first episode, but the memes and tropes presented have a certain ring of truth. One of the funniest was the observation that the fastest way to identify a techno-wanker is by the Blackberry he displays…

There he is, Terry Colby, the CTO. Even though he’s the head technology guy at one of the biggest companies in the world, he owns a Blackberry. So this is it right here. But also looks like he doesn’t see a terminal very often.

He’s not a techie. He’s a moron. An arrogant moron. The worst kind.

Oh, hi.

Tyrell Wellick. I’m Senior Vice President, Technology.

Elliot. Just a tech.

Don’t be so humble. You know, I started out exactly where you are, and to be honest, you know, my heart is still there. So I see you’re running Gnome. You know, I’m actually on KDE myself. I know this desktop environment is supposed to be better but you know what they say. Old habits they die hard.

An executive running Linux with…

Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I’m an executive. I mean why am I even running Linux? Again old habits. It’s gonna be fun working with you. I should join the rest of the group. Bonsoir, Elliot.

But it’s not just the good guys who run Linux, or so it seems at this early stage in the storyline. Wellick is the evil new techno chief at Evil Corp, so maybe guys with ties who loudly lick their Linux chops should be viewed with suspicion. Or maybe just anyone who wears a tie.

Linux marches to the beat of broadband growth

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Most of the world’s personal computers run on Microsoft Windows. Gartner, a tech industry research group, says that the 280 million Windows boxes shipped last year swamped 12.5 million Macs and 2.9 million Chromebooks. But Gartner is also predicting that the Linux-based Chrome operating system will overtake the Mac OS by 2016.

According to a BBC story

“There’s a couple of reasons – one is the number of vendors who are now pushing a [Chromebook] device,” explained Ranjit Atwal, research director at the firm.

“The second thing is the appeal they have in developing markets given their price points.

”You’re looking at large-screen notebooks for less than $200 with a good software ecosystem around them – that’s a compelling proposition. The only inhibiting factor is connectivity."

Because Chromebooks are essentially cloud computers that are centrally managed and maintained by Google, the comparative clunkiness of Linux user interfaces and the wonkiness required to install and upgrade software become non-issues.

It just works. If it has a sufficiently robust Internet connection. Which means broadband infrastructure initiatives in developing markets, such as South Africa, and edgy edge projects, like Facebook’s and Google’s drones and looney balloons could have as much bearing on Microsoft’s survival as continued refinement of Linux and associated open software applications.

Of course, Microsoft is moving toward a cloud-based model, too. But it’s stuck in the middle between Google’s purist approach and Apple’s tight OS-application-hardware-service integration. Premium priced Macs can never be an existential threat to Windows machines, but as Internet connectivity becomes ever more reliable and affordable across the planet, equally sleek and much cheaper Linux installations will.

And the 2014 open source champion prize goes to Microsoft

by Steve Blum • , , , ,

In with a chance.

When the City of Los Angeles released its gigabit RFI earlier this week, it didn’t put the considerable broadband-relevant assets owned by its municipal electric utility on the table, but it did offer to throw in obsolete computers…

Due to the Microsoft end-of-support for its Windows XP Operating System on April 8, 2014, a mass computer replacement effort has been underway across the City. As a result, thousands of old computers will be salvaged through the City’s e-waste recycling. Under the guidance of the Offices of the Mayor, Council President and Innovation Technology and General Services Committee Chair, the City is working on the design and implementation of a digital inclusion pilot program to take advantage of these salvaged computers.

It’s an odd juxtaposition: asking for a city-wide fiber network on the one hand, and giving out thousands of computers that probably lack the horsepower to do very much with it. There’s a plan to work with non-profit outfits to refurbish the computers, though. It raises an interesting question: which operating system will be loaded in to replace Windows XP?

Some flavor of Linux is one potentially disruptive possibility. As libraries and schools have learned, the usability gap between open source software and shrink wrapped commercial packages has narrowed to the point that there’s little practical difference when it comes to basics like word processing, graphics and spreadsheets. It’s also an option for other public sector IT departments that lack the budget to upgrade immediately.

When Microsoft made the decision to pull the plug on XP, someone must have looked at the risk-benefit trade-off of creating a mass OS switching opportunity away from Windows. We’ll know if they didn’t, or if they miscalculated, if the next bold move out of Redmond is Office for Linux.

Intel CEO’s vision for a post-Windows world

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Time for Linux and kin.

“This is a consumer show, like it or not”, said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, as he gave his maiden CES keynote talk last night. Judging by what he said (and didn’t say), the consumer electronics world is built on Linux and Android. His focus was on wearables.

“They don’t integrate all the features you want, you still had to have something else with you”, Krzanich said about smart watches and other wearables. “And you ’re not solving real problems, the problems people want solved at the time”.

Intel’s answer is adding more and more functionality – using audio ear buds to measure heart rate, for example – and putting more processing power into tiny devices. To jump start that effort, Krzanich announced a competition worth $1.3 million in prize money – $500,000 for first place – for new ideas. According to Intel’s press release

The product must be based on Intel technology and be a sensor or computing device that is attached, embedded or worn on the body.

Krzanich bent over backwards to be operating system-agnostic. The convertible PC/tablet he demoed boots into either Android or Windows. The one actual Intel product he introduced – a Pentium-class system-on-a-chip called Edison, built into a standard, small SD card – runs Linux, not Windows. Intel’s re-launched security platform supports anything.

The reference designs in the spotlight last night did not include smart phones or pure tablets. Krzanich talked up productivity applications, in contrast to Steve Mollenkopf, Qualcomm’s CEO-in-waiting, who extolled media consumption earlier in the day. The two dominant chip makers staked out their turf yesterday, and there’s surprisingly little overlap in market positioning. The one thing Krzanich and Mollenkopf seem to agree on, though, is that the consumer electronics industry’s future lies with open source operating systems and their derivatives, not Windows.

De facto M2M protocol might be decided by appliance makers

by Steve Blum • , , , , , , ,

Popular standards flow from the lowest common denominator.

From Ericsson’s 50 billion node mobile universe to Qualcomm’s 1,000X meme, there’s been no shortage of grand vision for machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity at CES. Meaningful standards are lacking, but at least a consensus seems to be building around what to call it: the Internet of things – IoT.

Since it’ll be using the same, old Internet, there’s no particular worry about how to deliver data from point A to point B, and back again. Work needs to be done on standardising wireless access to networks, including mobile gateways, but that’s a finite problem, both in terms of technological alternatives and the entities that need to agree on them.

The biggest hurdle right now is figuring out a protocol for interaction amongst devices that’s as universally acceptable as hypertext transfer protocol is for human-to-machine interaction.

AllJoyn is a rising contender for that role. Originally developed as an open source project by Qualcomm, it’s now been transferred to the custodianship of the Linux Foundation, which in turn has rolled it into the AllSeen Alliance, whose members…

…will contribute software and engineering resources as part of their collaboration on an open software framework that enables hardware manufacturers, service providers and software developers to create interoperable devices and services. This open source framework allows ad hoc systems to seamlessly discover, dynamically connect and interact with nearby products regardless of brand, transport layer, platform or operating system.

Qualcomm is a premier member, of course, as are LG, Sharp, Panasonic and Haier, all of which are in the business of making dull, reliable and absolutely necessary appliances like refrigerators, dryers and air conditioners. If white goods manufacturers continue to sign on with AllJoyn/AllSeen, it could become the de facto standard for consumer-grade M2M/IoT products by cornering an industry segment that makes a virtue out of short attention spans and long replacement cycles. It could also inject pizzazz into white goods – who knows, the superstar at a future CES could even be a dishwasher, instead of the usual gonzo-sized video screen.

The Linux Foundation has already made inroads into the appliance business with Tizen, bringing Samsung and Intel into the mix, at least on the operating system side. World wide washing, anyone?

Linux kernels find fertile ground in Inyo County

by Steve Blum • , ,

Opening eyes to open source.

Inyo County, in remote eastern California, might be the first in the country where every student, from kindergartener to high school senior, is given a personal computing device in the public schools.

Terry McAteer, Inyo County superintendent of schools, made that claim last month at a forum organised by the Eastern Sierra Connect Regional Broadband Consortium. Every student in the county’s school system has an Acer Travelmate, a $320 netbook-class machine.

The hardware specs are decent enough – 1.6 MHz Celeron processor and 3.8 GB of RAM – but Linux is what keeps the cost down and performance up.

The devices are all provisioned and managed using the Ubermix platform, which was developed specifically to support Linux installations in schools. It bundles a customised version of Ubuntu Linux and the GNOME desktop environment, and about sixty open source applications into an easily installed package. Students can learn and experiment with it, but it can be easily managed – or completely restored – by school staff. It compares well to the Chromebook platform that’s finding favor in California libraries.

Younger students leave the computers at school, older kids can take them home. Parents can install the core applications, like Libre Office, on most any computer in the house, for more or less seamless transitions from school work to home work.

Students and parents who learn to be comfortable with the open source world will be more likely to stay with it over time, diminishing the gravitational attraction of Microsoft Windows and Office and setting the stage for cross platform – PCs, tablets, phones and embedded devices – implementations of Linux. It’s a barebones user experience, but it’s simple, functional and easy to learn. And delightfully subversive.

Pure Unix slides as offspring mature

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Big iron gunned down.

Recent obituaries for Unix have made for amusing reading. Two market analysis companies, Gartner and IDC, are predicting a long slide for the venerable operating system in the big iron side of the server market. Between 2012 and 2017, Gartner says that Unix’s share of the server market will slip from 16% to 9%, while IDC predicts revenues will drop from $10.2 billion to $8.7 billion over the same period.

The declining numbers – which are very plausible – aren’t a function of Unix’s appeal or utility, but of the types of machines it tends to run on and the people who maintain it. It’s the favored operating system for twentieth century vintage RISC-based processors, the kind that power purpose-built servers and big, special purpose systems, such as telecommunications networks. Although many of those platforms will prosper for a long time – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – the big middle of the server and, particularly, data center market has moved to Linux and x86-based processors.

Which isn’t exactly the same as killing off Unix. Linux is a not-too-distant Unix descendant that’s escaped from corporate stock pens into the open source wild. It spawned Android in the mobile world and might yet father Tizen and other lighter weight OSes that live happily on the power-stingy, RISC-based ARM chips that were designed for mobile devices. Which are now creeping into the data center market (frequently running an adapted Linux distro), where anything that holds down mounting energy bills is most welcome.

The real slide is in the value added by big IT consulting companies, like IBM or HP, that nurture in-house versions of Unix and maintain it on their clients’ systems. With Linux, particularly, settling down into a predictably evolving generic platform that can easily be installed and maintained by journeyman techs, the need for high-priced specialised talent and software will continue to fall. Big iron Unix won’t disappear completely – not every system or application can be supported by a generic platform – but it’ll become a niche player.

And if you want to continue to enjoy the rock solid thrill of Unix, get a Mac.

HP’s hope is going up the down staircase

by Steve Blum • , , , , ,

Can HP face Palm again?

There’s a new report that Hewlett-Packard might be about to jump into the mobile phone business. Its last such venture – the capture and rapid slaughter of Palm and its webOS in 2010 – is generally regarded as a disaster. But HP has to try again. It has no choice.

Computer sales are slipping, both for HP and the industry in general as tablet sales climb. It does make a Windows tablet, but that pretty much says it all. Hardly anyone is buying them.

The big question for HP is: does it try to swim in the mainstream of the mobile market and embrace the Android operating system, for both phones and tablets, or does it try to differentiate itself with an alternative like Linux or Firefox?

To succeed, HP has to come up with a unique selling proposition. The brand still has some lustre, but as the Palm debacle showed, that’s not enough to sell phones or an independent operating system. Its brand image is strong on technology and embarrassingly weak on design. So its best hope of catching the market’s attention is to come out with a product with new features and better performance.

Blackberry’s imminent demise could provide an opening. The HP brand is much loved by IT managers. By creating a product that meets bring-your-own-device standards and delivers a user experience that appeals to employees, it might fill a niche in the corporate world. Combining a novel operating system HP controls with its historical technological excellence might be enough.

I doubt HP wants to be a niche player, but right now that would be a step up.

Android becomes the Windows of opportunity

It goes both ways. But maybe not much longer.

Microsoft continues to slide toward the back of the mass computing market pack. Three more signs it’s losing its grip on consumer-grade devices:

  • Acer is coming out with an ARM-based desktop PC that runs the Android operating system. Earlier this year, Acer was the first major manufacturer to report that Linux-based Chromebooks were trending better than Windows PCs.
  • Asus just announced a hybrid tablet/desktop product with two Intel processors that runs Android in tablet mode and Windows when it’s docked. Apparently, Asus thinks any clunkiness caused by having two OSes onboard will be outweighed by the superior user experience Android delivers on mobile devices.
  • Microsoft is slashing the price manufacturers pay to install Windows RT on small tablets. It seems particularly desperate because RT was the first Windows version released for ARM processors, which dominate in mobile devices.

Windows simply doesn’t add enough value to a device to justify its cost. Arguably, it doesn’t add any value at all compared to Android, which is free.

Cutting the price for RT isn’t an exception. It’s the first step onto the slippery slope of competing on price rather than relying on the power and user experience of Windows to make the sale. Such as it is.

Keep a close eye on how Acer and Asus fare with their new products. If Acer starts to expand its desktop Android line – particularly into Intel-powered devices – and Asus stays the course with a dual OS strategy, it’ll be a clear sign that Microsoft will eventually have to cut its margin on Windows across the board.

Android is just a consumerised version of Linux developed for mobile devices. If it “just works” with consumers, there’s no reason full scale distros, like Ubuntu, can’t do the same. Microsoft is learning it’s hard to compete with free.