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.
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