Linux and Unix-like Operating Systems

Updated 20-Sep-2023

Linux and unix-like operating systems have basically won the battle, albeit on the server and mobile front rather than at the desktop. And while there will be Windows and it will continue to live on, its days are essentially numbered. How did this happen? At what point did the phone become a computer? How did Windows Mobile lose? Well that is a Ballmer story, most likely... Photo of the Week - Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge (VA)

Battle of the Operating Systems

  • iOS is based on Darwin
  • Android is based on Linux, and indeed will likely merge back within the next several years, according to both Google and Linux.
  • If BlackBerry survives, it will completely replace it's Blackberry OS with a QNX-based system. QNX is a unix-like microkernel operating system first released in 1982.
  • Bada, a proprietary or Linux-kernel configurable OS by Samsung may be open sourced in 2012.
  • Windows Phone currently is selling about 1% of phones but the impending rollout of Windows Phone to Nokia hardware devices may change that. Windows Phone has its roots in Windows CE which itself is based on Win32 architecture. However, CE was never a stripped down version of a desktop OS but was its' own creature. This forms the basis of Windows Phone. However, the tablets that Microsoft will be developing for are supposed to use Windows 8 in a stripped-down mode. This use of a Desktop OS stripped down for a Tablet rather than a Mobile OS, as is the model for Android and iOS, seems to be a mistake. While hardware functionality and price/performance does increase rapidly, applications will have to be written twice to target the tablet/phone platforms. This means that fewer applications will be available for both the phone and the tablet than for iOS and Android where apps for the phone run on the tablet. The iOS and Android approaches are to build from the ground up a new OS in a low power, slower processor environment. This system can naturally grow to increase functionality as the hardware becomes faster and less expensive (though power is a much tougher problem since faster processors consume more energy).

The NEC MobilePro

As a blast from the past, let's look at the 1999-2001 line of NEC MobilePro 770, 780 and 790. These are still available on Ebay and Amazon and I've owned several of these. They emerged before the subnotebook/netbooks and ran the WindowsCE OS. I found them extremely useful as a 1 pound (> 0.5 kg) device with a useable (79% size) keyboard, touchscreen and modem (also supported USB, PCMCIA and CF/II card slots for wifi and ethernet). The 790 had 32mb ram and 24mb rom. The touchscreen + keyboard with 8" screen was the perfect note-taking device in the classroom and office meetings. This form factor has been overcome on the one hand by touchscreen phones with up to 4.3" screens and the emerging 7" tablets from Nook and Amazon as well as Samsung, and on the other hand by netbooks with 9" screens. However, the keyboard and 1 pound is still a sweet spot which could conceivably be a market. The Google Chromebook initiative is still to large a form factor, on the one hand, and too expensive, on the other. One of the most interesting factors is that in the last 10 years, the cost and performance of such a form factor, using Android, would potentially hit the ideal price point. How did we get to this multi-touch glass interface that look extremely similar, with really a two-horse race on operating system, apps, etc.? Innovation went from hardware to software with the new paradigm instituted by the iPhone. Witness the plethora of hardware innovations up until 2007...

Ideal Form Factors

With the 7-8" form factor we are not yet at the best place, and this shows the insight of Steve Jobs. While a 544g 9.7" screen feels light when held in two hands, a 413g 7" screen feels heavy in one hand (the weight of the Amazon Kindle Fire). On the other hand, the form factor (nearly have the width and half the weight at 240g) of the Kindle 3 is pleasing and does not cause strain (roughly the same weight as a paperback book, or less). The 135g HTC Desire (3.7" screen) or Samsung Galaxy Nexus (4.65" screen) feels heavy at first but also does not strain the hand.