Five short years ago I wrote an article about my desire for a Nokia N900. I was extremely enthusiastic about the device, which I saw as the future of computing and a sign of things to come. I also said:
Personally I think Linux usage overtaking Windows on personal computing devices is inevitable, and this is how it’s going to happen (although the capabilities of the N900 will have to move down to a much lower price point first). We’ll see if I’m right in 5-10 years time.
It’s now 4 years and 4 months later. I was right about Linux overtaking windows on personal computing devices, but I was wrong about how, and it happened far more quickly than I could have imagined.
In May 2013, just 3 and a half years after that post, ZDNet declared that Linux had double the market share of Windows. 3 months later in May, Mark Shuttleworth declared his famous bug #1 “Microsoft has a majority market share” closed. The former is largely thanks to Android while the latter can be attributed to iOS as well.
They both agree that the broader computing landscape has changed; it’s not all about PCs any more, but smartphones, tablets and wearable computing devices are all part of our lives. Linux in these markets is booming.
The N900 on the other hand didn’t fare so well. Despite my belief that it was the future of computing, the ecosystem around it ended up losing very, very badly to both Android and IOS. My N900 still works, it just sits in a drawer and the software hasn’t seen an official update since October 2010. Just a single year of software support is a very poor show.
In retrospect, a Google Nexus One or, dare I say it, an iPhone 3GS, would have been more useful purchases. I replaced the N900 with a Google Nexus S in January 2011, after just one year of use as my personal phone.
If you want the full story of Nokia’s efforts with Maemo/MeeGo and Linux have a read of The Story of Nokia MeeGo. It’s an interesting read and shows how Nokia came to abandon its in-house platforms and go all-in with Windows Phone.
The spiritual successor to Nokia’s open source devices and employer of many ex-Nokia folk is Jolla. Jolla’s Sailfish OS effectively picks up where MeeGo left off, and the first device based on it is already shipping. It looks promising, and you can bet they won’t make the same mistakes Nokia did, but their resources are miniscule compared to Google and Apple. I’ll watch them with interest and if they can build a good-enough ecosystem they may find their niche in techies that don’t like Google’s data collection or Apple’s walled garden. For now though, Sailfish is not ready for mass adoption.
It’s great that Microsoft no longer has a monopoly and we have a competitive computing landscape. We’re seeing an incredible amount of innovation in the mobile space. The concern now isn’t lack of choice in devices or operating systems, but in the services around them and control of personal data. The amount of data on us being collected by our devices and the services we use online is enormous, and a lot of it is unnecessary and not for our benefit. But that’s a topic for another post.