Superphone is Just Another Word for Personal Computer

by Ostatic Staff - Jan. 06, 2010

It finally happened, and hardly anyone noticed. A major Linux announcement got the Apple treatment from the media, and generated major consumer excitement. Granted, Linux snuck in under the guise of the Nexus One, but if the media excitement over Google's "superphone" is any indication, millions of people will be picking up Linux personal computers in 2010. While not quite the "year of the Linux desktop" Linux enthusiasts have been hoping for, it's still a major win for Linux and FLOSS.

It's long been argued that FLOSS advocates should be looking at the next generation of computing devices. That strategy is paying off. More than 1.4 million Google Android (that's Linux) devices shipped in the third quarter of 2009. It's too early for numbers in the fourth quarter, but you can bet that they're even higher. In three months, that's 1.4 million users adopting Linux for personal computing. Granted, still a minority next to other smartphones, but the Nexus One looks ready to give other smartphone vendors a run for their money.

Don't think of a mobile phone as a "personal computer?" Don't say that to Benjamin Mako Hill. Hill pointed out last fall that there should be more than 3 billion mobile phones in use by the end of 2009, and that we really should be looking at those as personal computers that should run FLOSS:

We must find ways to remind ourselves and others of the fact that modern phones are powerful computers with powerful interfaces that are useful for a unimaginable variety of arbitrary applications. We must focus on the fact that these computers have microphones, sensors, and other sensors and that we trust them with our closest secrets and most sensitive data. We must not forget that, in almost all cases, these computers remain controlled, completely and ultimately, by companies that very few of us trust at all.

The Nexus isn't entirely Free Software, but Google has gone quite a bit farther in terms of user freedom. The company is making it easy (if not inexpensive) to buy untethered phones that will run on multiple networks. Even though my friend Ron Miller argues that Google shouldn't get directly into retail, the company's strategy of going around the carriers is sound. By going directly to customers, Google prevents the carriers from crippling the device in any way — something that carriers have a nasty tendency to do in order to tie subscribers to their own services and application stores.

If Android isn't free enough for you, there's Replicant, a project to deliver a Free Software stack to the HTC-series of phones running Android.

Plenty has been written about the sexy tech specs of the Nexus One, the apps and relative openness of the Nexus One compared to the iPhone, but the fact that it's a Linux device has been largely ignored. Google has proven that focusing on user benefits is the way to put Linux in the hands of mainstream users.

But that doesn't mean the effort should stop there. Google is doing the heavy lifting of getting Linux into the hands of millions of users. It's up to FLOSS advocates to remind them what they're holding.

Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a longtime FLOSS advocate, and currently works for Novell as the community manager for openSUSE. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist covering the open source beat for a number of publications, including Linux Magazine, Linux Weekly News,,, IBM developerWorks, and many others.