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When is it worth saying it's Linux?

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Linux

Recently, I was showing a Motorola Milestone phone to a non-technical friend. When I mentioned that the phone was running Android, he said to me "Oh, thats the Google Linux for phones isn't it... does it run OpenOffice?". I had to disappoint him at that point, but it lead to a question I had to ask: When the user interface is different and the API for developers is different, is an operating system still Linux, or is it something else?

At the recent Consumer Electronics Show there was a flood of netbooks and Android based devices about to be launched into the market. The folks at the Linux Foundation couldn't be more pleased about the incursion of Linux into this new generation of portable connected devices, but the software that appears on these devices often doesn't look or feel like "Linux".

The one word brand is a useful tool for consumers; when an average consumer sees the word "Windows", they know that the operating system will run programs written for Windows. When they see "MacOS" they similarly know it will run programs for Mac. When it comes to "Linux", things are different. Most of you reading this will, of course, know that what the general public have running on their desktop systems is, in fact, a combination of a windows manager and various applications, such as OpenOffice, GIMP, Firefox or Thunderbird, with a system kernel and that Linux refers to the kernel of the operating system, a distinction that is lost on consumers. But the new generation of devices lauded as "being Linux" aren't like that.

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