Carla Sch­roder from Linux Today repeats a ques­tion that I’ve heard asked many times:

Here we go with anoth­er round of Linux Today read­er com­ments. Let’s start off with an issue that has been on my mind: Vendors who boast of the their Linux-based devices, but they only sup­port Win­dows and Mac cli­ents. It’s a step in the right dir­ec­tion, but would sup­port­ing Linux cli­ents be so difficult?”

There are two major mis­takes that are often made in con­sid­er­ing this question:

  • that all “Linux” sys­tems are the same
  • that by using Linux in one place, it only makes sense that you sup­port oth­er “Linux” systems

We need to remem­ber that the only thing most of these devices share with a desktop “Linux” sys­tem (or even with each oth­er) is the ker­nel (i.e. the pre­cise defin­i­tion of “Linux”). The user­land is dif­fer­ent, and there’s a lot of their own pro­pri­et­ary stuff on it too. Even the hard­ware (such as CPU archi­tec­ture) is often wildly dif­fer­ent. I think people have grown to think it’s all the same since we call it all “Linux”, but it’s not.

Because of this prac­tic­al conun­drum (as totally dis­tinct from any philo­soph­ic­al or oth­er argu­ments), I have some sym­pathy for those who prefer to call the sys­tem we use on our desktop and serv­er sys­tems “GNU/​Linux”.

Argue all you want about its accur­acy, but the fact is that it is far more accur­ate than merely using the ker­nel name as nomen­clature for the entire OS. It spe­cifies a user­land that with the ker­nel com­prises a work­able oper­at­ing sys­tem. Come up with a bet­ter name if that makes you feel more comfortable.

This opens up a whole can of worms. If I’m an applic­a­tions or device developer and I announce “Linux sup­port”, what do I mean? Will it work on my mobile phone? On my tele­vi­sion? Prob­ably not. Chances are it refers to par­tic­u­lar ver­sions of par­tic­u­lar dis­tri­bu­tions for a par­tic­u­lar architecture.

If I pro­duce a device that is based on “Linux”, what rela­tion does that have to oth­er “Linux” sys­tems? None. It’s not just devices: anoth­er major cul­prit is Web ser­vices. Linux runs most of the Inter­net, but many online ser­vices are not com­pat­ible with desktop Linux systems.

The reas­ons for this are simple:

  • cor­rel­a­tion does not imply causation
  • the small mar­ket size of desktop Linux users

The first point relates to what I said earli­er, that there’s no con­nec­tion between the use of Linux on serv­ers and devices versus its use on desktop com­puters. The use­ful­ness of Linux on serv­ers and devices is firmly recog­nised in many sectors.

The same can­not be said for desktop sys­tems, des­pite what we may wish. If it costs a developer more to sup­port a tiny mar­ket, they are prob­ably not going to do it. That’s just busi­ness. Com­pan­ies that choose to sup­port desktop Linux often do so for oth­er reas­ons, such as to foster a developer/​fan base or tap into a very spe­cif­ic set of users.

So every­one, I share your frus­tra­tions that many so-called “Linux”-based devices/​services don’t inter­face with my com­puters, but I keep in mind the points made above.

LotD: NSW Police: Don’t use Win­dows for inter­net bank­ing (iTnews)

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