Linux

Android and open source once again pushing boundaries of technology

Jack Wallen considers the next step in the evolution of desktop-to-mobile design with the advent of the new HP Slate 21 tablet and how it could change the market.

It was only a matter of time before the Android platform made its way (in an official capacity) to the desktop. This is happening thanks to HP and their new all-in-one Slate 21 tablet. This tablet is powered by Android 4.2.2, will ship in September, and has a price point of approximately $399 USD. But that's not really the true significance of this device. The real purpose of the Slate 21 is to seamlessly bridge the gap between the smartphone and the desktop. Without so much as a blink of the eye, the user will be able to move between their Android-powered smart phone and their Android-powered desktop.

Progress made simple

The Slate 21 represents the natural evolutionary state of mobility. Until now there has been a distinct chasm between the handheld and the desktop. That ceases to be with the Slate 21. That same progress won't end there.

Obviously both Apple and Microsoft have attempted to bridge the gap. What they wound up with was nothing more than a pseudo-mirrored interface between the desktop and the smartphone. Beyond that (and the ability to back up and sync apps in iTunes), the bridge crumbled into the cold waters below. And, of course, Android has a bit of an advantage as its platform happens to be the single most flexible mobile platform available. So, yes, this is a natural evolutionary step for the Linux-based operating system. Because of that flexibility, the UI will translate perfectly to the desktop and, with a quick sync, what you were doing on your smartphone...you can quickly continue on your desktop (and vice versa). Can you think of a more powerful mobile solution than that?

I am fairly certain this level of mobile power will not end there. With the upcoming Ubuntu Phone, users should see even more interconnectivity between desktop and smartphone. And as those lines begin to blur, you can bet Microsoft and Apple will jump on the band wagon. They'd be fools not to. The whole of the desktop-sphere is changing. It's only a matter of time before the desktop, as we know it, is completely obsolete. Nearly every platform out there has, in some ways, embraced a more mobile-centric nature:

  • Android
  • Ubuntu
  • GNOME
  • Microsoft

Oddly enough, the only hold-out is Apple - who continues to pimp their OS X in just a slightly tweaked take on the original version (fortunately, for Apple, it happens to work well). Outside of Apple (and the Linux die-hard hold outs) the desktop platform has begun a slow, steady march toward mobile. But what Android and HP will be offering is more like a lightning-fast sprint towards that evolutionary next step.

Android will certainly not be the only player in this market. As soon as Ubuntu lands a carrier for their mobile solution, there will certainly be another entry in the desktop-mobile hybrid in the form of Unity. Only what Ubuntu will be able to offer could possibly trump the hand played by Android. Ubuntu should have the ability to add to this mobile-desktop hybrid, the power of a full-blown desktop experience. Instead of having to work with only mobile-based apps, the user could easily switch and share data between mobile and desktop apps. Now that would be a true next evolutionary step ... one that would power mobile users drooling and begging.

One of the biggest issues facing desktop PC manufacturers is decreasing sales of the tried and true desktop machine. The mobile device has taken over as leader of the pack in sales - and that trend will only continue growing. The best hope the old guard has is to evolve and offer exactly what the users want. That is precisely what HP and Android are going to do. Will it work out? I certainly hope so. But more than that, I hope other open source projects and companies can see the writing on the wall and make their own leap of faith between desktop and mobile device. Open source certainly has the flexibility and the desire; it's just a matter of making it so.

As it stands, the biggest hurdle for Ubuntu and the Ubuntu Phone is finding carriers. The software and hardware? Not a problem. If they cannot find carriers across the globe, they might as well give up. It would be a shame should that happen. I honestly believe the next next phase of evolution for the desktop-mobile world is in the hands of Ubuntu and Ubuntu Unity. In the meantime, let's see how fast and far Android and HP can take this ride.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

32 comments
mtuppen
mtuppen

Most big businesses I'm aware of have to use PC's because that's all their software is going to run on. When you have hundreds to thousands of applications in your organisation running on Windows you have to keep them going on PC's that run Windows. If the likes of Android or IOS are going to take over there's heck of a lot of work to do to make the majority of software applications run on their platforms.

howard.blake
howard.blake

He just needs an Internet-enabled appliance he can play rudimentary (casual) games on, get email, Facebook, surf the web and generally goof around - maybe type a letter occasionally. Joe represents 2/3rds of the populace. The other 1/3 needs a more powerful device and it needs to be mobile. The notebook has worked in that niche for quite some time, but it's just too clunky and needs to evolve. We tried tablets, but they are for the Joe Schmuck's of the world - not quite what we need for business (or gamers). The OS doesn't matter any more - what matters is the form factor, power of the device and security of the system. I personally use Win 7 for business and I use Linux Mint 15 (Cinnamon desktop) for my personal use and love both. I don't care for Win 8 - MS blew that one. Android/Linux/MS - it just doesn't matter. Give me a box that is easy to carry, rugged, easy to enter data in, not impacted easily by malware and will allow me to run my business and I'll buy it - just like 99% of the rest of that 1/3 I mentioned.

Sagax-
Sagax-

At the time, many years ago, when I bought a new Pentium 100 PC with 15 Mgb of RAM and a 100 Mgb Hard drive, I could do anything with any software available. As time went along, greater capability became available and software expanded to occupy that higher capability. We even arrived at a time when a new, more capable PC was needed to properly run the new Windows OS. I suggest that a few years ago that progression plateaued. With the exception of the special needs such as Gamers, Scientific and Engineering duties, the new PC will not perform noticeably better than the 5 or 6 year old one for most people most of the time. Why then buy a new one before the old one dies?

Kieron Seymour-Howell
Kieron Seymour-Howell

This is great, for the majority of consumers who have no need for content creation. The fact is, it is a wonderful "appliance", but it is NOT a complete computer, which, I agree that most people do not need. How many people dropped a couple thousand on a desktop, only to play solitaire and surf the Web. People cannot even remember their passwords or manage to load a multi-IM client to correctly keep in touch all the online accounts they impulsively signed up with. So, these Android desktops are perfectly suited for the majority of users who merely watch movies and play games on Facebook, buy a few things online and read email (if they can manage the server settings). I, along with many serious and business users, need something more. A real computer. Just the same way some people only need a scooter, I need a truck.

aroc
aroc

I am not seeing enough hard info in this article to understand how this compares to Motorola's Webtop Desktop Environment (DE) for some of their Droid phones to run when the phones are connected to corresponding Moto "Lapdocks" (unfortunately discontinued since Moto did not seem to understand how to market them or price them reasonably). I find my Bionic/Lapdock combo with the Webtop 3 DE, available with ICS, to be quite useful, and about as "seamless" as it gets with Webtop running directly from the phone. The Lapdock is basically a dumb terminal with 1366x768 HDMI 11.6" display, full keyboard, touchpad (ugh - gimme a trackpoint and make the keyboard bigger, or the whole thing a bit smaller for better portability, plus a touch screen for at least occasional swipes/taps - the Lapdock "sprawls" quite a bit). It is about the size and heft of Samsung's ARM Chromebook (that I also have), and has been used as keyboard/display with the Raspberry Pi (with an "interesting" amalgam of USB and HDMI adapters and cables to hook them up). The Lapdock has got me thinking about making my next trip without my usual personal notebook, a very compact Fujitsu P1620 Lifebook convertible running Linux (and alternate boot to WinXP - almost never - and now Win 8.1 preview, which works "disturbingly" well on it - making me think Windows might be getting something right on at least small touch PC's like the 8.9" P1620 - not so much on desktops that still require non-touch, for me at least, since my arthritis/ruptured disk do not permit lots of reaching out to a big touch screen monitor). .

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

Perhaps the reason sales of desktop machines is decreasing is that, in the absence of anything more suitable or suitably priced, people used to buy desktop machines to perform tasks for which they are not well suited. Now that those people have more suitable and suitably priced choices, they are replacing their desktop machines with tablets and/or smartphones. Desktop computers (and laptops, almost), are best suited as computing tools, and that's not what most of them are used as. Most people don't need all the capability of a modern desktop computer, and don't want to be bothered with the complexity that tends to come with capability. For some reason, the industry, including the open source side, continue to believe that there will eventually be one kind of system that works for everyone. Sounds like what Henry Ford thought about vehicles. He was wrong - we have sedans, station wagons, pickups, king cab pickups, minivans, vans, panel trucks, sportscars...etc. - one size does not fit all, and those different types of vehicles require different engines, drive trains and other features, and (surprise), they look different. The question is, are the boundaries of technology being pushed really the boundaries that need to be pushed, or are they just being pushed to create more toys that can be sold to people who don't really need them? Progress in the eye candy department has been phenomenal over the past 3 years; but for the past 18 years, there has not been one version of Excel with which an average user could create a protected form that could not be destroyed by a user copying or cutting and pasting over unprotected cells. Having one favorite browser used to be sufficient; today I need at least 2, because some sites don't work properly in Internet Explorer but work fine if I copy and paste the URL into FireFox (and vice versa - for example, I couldn't make this comment in IE, but could in FireFox, and I couldn't edit it in FireFox, but could in IE). Is eye candy really progress?

chraigs
chraigs

I found the comment about die hard linux users gave me a chuckle especially in the light that googles android os is a linux based distro which is also available in a desktop flavour. (Ubuntu on the mobile market will be interesting but in honesty I imagine ubuntu and android will grow up side by side with both learning from the other. Ubuntu have said that their operating system will port onto android so finally we have a choice (in the good old linux sense of the word) On topic though seeing HP join the Android market place could be truly beneficial but i wont hold my breath

craig.toshack
craig.toshack

Desktops are still a popular choice for gaming/Enthusiasts. Yes you can game on a laptop but the destops still have more performance for around the same price. And the gaming on mobile devices is not the same as what it is on a Desktop. The google services are the reason why folks can access email and other tools on multiple devices. Manufacturers are producing high end graphics cards for the gamer and Enthusiast market and motherboards are really advanced.

CFWhitman
CFWhitman

@mtuppen That's true.  However, though a slow process that never really completely finishes, we have seen that paradigm shifts have resulted in eventual turnover to a new operating system or technology.  There's just a lot of parallel existence of the systems during the turnover, which lasts for years.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

A box that is easy to carry, rugged, easy to enter data in, not impacted easily by malware and will allow you to run your business. Cheap to buy, cheap to administer, too. Lots of free, capable apps, too...

xaKira
xaKira

Software is no longer pushing hardware. That's why desktop sales have slowed but not desktop usage.

jred
jred

Sometimes it's cheaper to replace the PC than it is to pay someone to clean the old one. Also, the more service packs there are for WinX, the more resources it uses. 512mb RAM was originally fine for low-end XP, now you need 1gb for basic browsing and light office duties.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

What's happening is that people who don't need a full desktop environment are buying the alternatives they now have. This does NOT mean that the desktop PC is becoming obsolete. That's nonsense. People still need/want it. The desktop PC market is merely having to share the market space. It's ridiculous that the talking heads can't tell the difference...

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

You said it: "Desktop computers (and laptops, almost), are best suited as computing tools, and that's not what most of them are used as. Most people don't need all the capability of a modern desktop computer, and don't want to be bothered with the complexity that tends to come with capability." Hence the Chromebook. An ultrabook that dispenses with the unwanted/unneeded complexity of dealing with all the issues and problems and maintenance of a desktop operating system that most people don't want to be bothered with. Because it effectively hides the OS -- and all of that. Yet it does so in a way that does not render the machine a "special-purpose" does-one-thing device. And it *is* an open-source project that respects the fact that one system does NOT fit all. No eye candy... Just a browser, USB/SD card file access, remote desktop capability, and no OS to deal with: No maintenance, no managing updates, no viruses and malware, no device drivers... Just open and go browsing, play music, go shopping, watch movies, and even play games.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Jack in particular mostly only talks about his favorite distro, Ubuntu. But Android is Linux. Once rooted you can do some neat stuff on it. I heard people got Wine working on Android and can now run Windows programs.

xaKira
xaKira

Gaming software has always pushed desktop PC's much harder that any office/social software. Fans screaming when playing games and PC idling when doing everything else :))

Slayer_
Slayer_

Those really cheap and crappy walmart/best buy/future shop PC's that are prebuilt, and are garbage. Gaming PC's have been increasing steadily for awhile now. nVidia knows this and re-positioned themselves for mobile and desktop gaming.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

@CFWhitman @mtuppen 

I expect that as time goes on, more & more business applications will be web-based.  Then, the the only dependency will be "a computer with a web browser".  I.e., the browser won't matter (Chrome, Firefox, etc.) and the operating system won't matter (Windows, Linux, Mac, Android, etc.)

And it will be interesting to see how this is driven by the "Chromebook-type" product (i.e., ChromeOS, FirefoxOS, etc.), and how Chromebooks, et al will take off as this migration makes them ever more useful for businesses.

It's already started, of course.  The only question is how fast it will progress...

Slayer_
Slayer_

Most expensive virus clean I have seen was 120 bucks..... And everyone here can clean their own PC, and for any PC we support we probably aren't going to let them surf the net without protection. So it's not really an issue for us. And XP SP3 runs fine on 256mb of RAM. And it can run office 2001 (Office XP) no problem.

xaKira
xaKira

I've never tried a chromebook myself. It looks interesting but would have to be limited in apps. I'll probably never move from the "classic" desktop - thank you Linux Mint for looking after me. Just to address some misleading information you proposed. Just because the OS is hidden doesn't mean you magically cant suffer from OS related problems. And about no viruses or malware, well who ever heard of getting infected from from a browser connected to the internet ... that's just crazy talk !

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Yes, both Ubuntu and Android run Linux, which is to say the Linux kernel. Nitpickers will tell you that that's what Linux is (and all that it is: the kernel). The "rest of the OS" (userland) is GNU for Ubuntu, et al, and Android for tablets & smartphones of that name. But we all know that few make the distinction between the kernel & the userland that wraps it, and just refer to the combination as the OS and therefore label it all "Linux". Ergo "Android is Linux". But the userland of Android is not the same as the userland of Ubuntu, and if Jack is drawing the line there, then he's technically correct. However, in the real world, not many will get the distinctions, and it just looks like he's Ubuntu-centric. Okay, maybe he *is*, but ... :^)

jred
jred

Most consumers don't *need* a PC. I recently went on a 2 week vacation & just took my nexus 7 & a bluetooth kb & mouse. Once i connected to a terminal server, I was good to go. I was glad to get back home to my gaming PC, though :) Speaking of gaming PCs, I got an email announcement for a small form factor Nvidia gaming PC, I need to look into that a bit, my PC is getting long in the tooth...

CFWhitman
CFWhitman

@Slayer_  

That's not really my experience.  When XP first came out it ran OK on 256MB of RAM and well on 512 MB of RAM.  Now XP SP3 runs OK on 512 MB and runs well on 1 GB.  It still runs on 256 MB of RAM, but it's not a pleasant experience.

xaKira
xaKira

I think it's coded into the human animal's DNA to want the latest and always upgrade. Why any IT department would upgrade from Windows 2000 for normal business apps is beyond me. The amount of wasted money and hours must be staggering world-wide. The question always seems to be "when" to upgrade rather than "why" upgrade. Of course it does justify the IT jobs.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

@xaKira 

Yes, it is secure; I think it uses a security-enhanced Linux distro to base its ChromeOS on.  For example, it ships with the OS stored in an encrypted partition, and maintains checks on the OS filesystem such that if anything should succeed in compromising the OS, it will wipe it and re-install.  (You can bypass this in 'Developer Mode', which allows you to replace ChromeOS or add Ubuntu, for example.)

You're also correct that Google gets your data... And for most people, probably doesn't care.  (The NSA does, but they'll get your data anyway.  Well, if you send any of it over a network outside of your house.  Which you're going to do anyway.  I.e., you're screwed there, so why worry about Google?)

And, with the recent revelations about Facebook, e.g., you're already profiled -- even by Facebook even if you don't have a Facebook account.  (Google it.  Oops, that wasn't a pun.)

And you're right about Chromebooks doing the basics really well.  It does, and that flummoxes people.  But once they actually play with one, they "get" its value and usefulness.  And they'll also get partial justification in verifying that it's probably not going to be your only PC (for most of us) -- but it could be, if your needs are simple.

Printing is not an issue, IF you have a cloud printing-enabled printer.. or if you have another PC on your home network that can print on a non-e-printer, you can print through that.  Scanners that are part of the aforementioned "e-printers" work; you can also scan into an SD card (if your scanner supports) and put that into the Chromebook.  (Or use a regular PC if you have one.)

I don't scan or print much from my *regular* PC, so this isn't much of an issue for me.  I use my Chromebook mainly for content consumption (like a tablet), but I also appreciate the nice *real* keyboard that I use to write emails or work with another PC using SSH in a terminal.

xaKira
xaKira

By what you say it sounds secure ... even more secure than Linux itself. One reason I wouldn't want to own a chromebook myself is that Google gets to have all your data on it's servers - doesn't it? I love Google but I don't trust them as much as I used to. I use Linux Mint exclusively, not windows and view viruses and malware as a lesser threat compared to a corporation having open access to my documents to data mine and profile me. You have to remember once your data gets onto the servers, cloud or wherever, it can stay there forever. "Again, Chromebooks relieve the average users of most of the risks, worries, and troubles of dealing with a general-purpose desktop OS, which are overkill for the daily needs of most users." I suppose you mean Chromebook just does basic stuff really well. Do you class scanning and printing as overkill? because my understanding is that you have to jump through more hoops to scan and print with a chromebook.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

It's also interesting that in the last pwn2own contest, no one could hack a Chromebook (even though all the popular browsers fell to successful attacks). Google has awards totaling $3.14 million offered to anyone who can pwn it. Still unclaimed. Again, Chromebooks relieve the average users of most of the risks, worries, and troubles of dealing with a general-purpose desktop OS, which are overkill for the daily needs of most users. Try one.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Chromebooks do have an OS -- a Linux-based OS. I didn't say that ChromeOS eliminates OS-related problems, but that it removes the need to deal with many of the problems that current desktop OSes come with. It's obviously not going to remove 100% of issues, but a significant reduction is still a significant reduction. And since the underlying OS that ChromeOS is based on is Linux (not Windows), the huge "market" of Windows malware is not able to infect it. It does not run Java, it does not run ActiveX, etc. and any browser-borne malware based on such technologies will not infect ChromeOS. Obviously the Chrome browser supports JavaScript, and any malicious JS extensions and plugins that the user chooses to install could cause issues, but I am not aware of any malicious JS extension that "install themselves on their own initiative"; those that exist typically use social engineering techniques (which, assuming they're compatible with the user's platform, are a technology-agnostic vector) or exploit security vulnerabilities of JS; these historically are rapidly patched. Two words --> two paragraphs should make it clearer, I hope. There is a HUGE distinction between the risks & risk levels in browsing on a Windows platform vs browsing on a Chromebook. That's the message, not one of splitting technical hairs and confusing people into thinking that all risks are equal. That's just crazy talk! ;^)

xaKira
xaKira

My early bet would be on Ubuntu Unity. Personaly I don't like Unity and switched to Mint. I believe Ubuntu is more powerful than Android and when the hardware gets more powerful, i.e. phones and tablets then Ubuntu Unity and the linux apps (GNU) will be a matched fit whereas android is a leaner system that is a perfect fit for said devices at the moment. A similar example happened between typewriters and PC's. They weren't fighting for the same hardware but were fighting for the same market. Typewriters were becoming more powerful and getting bigger screens. PC's were getting cheaper and were much more powerful, then along came the word processor and killed the typewriter almost over night. U/Unity and Android are headed for the same point in the future. I love android but in the future if I get a choice between android and a more GNU centric device I might go GNU. What could save android though, is their massive PlayStore. I called it a war just for drama but I think we all win in the future either way if it's free and open.

Brainstorms
Brainstorms

Unity is improving. Slowly. I'll stick with Gnome Shell. It's also been improving, and it's quite nice at 3.8.