GNU/Linux Returns to Walmart

Walmart lost interest in GNU/Linux on netbooks for some reason but welcomes it again on tablets. Funny how that works, eh? Small cheap computers and GNU/Linux go together well, that other OS does not fit and M$ cannot justify tinkering with the market. Chuckle.

I wish them well with this product. It will be harder for them to exclude netbooks with GNU/Linux if they push tablets and smart-phones with GNU/Linux. It’s all good. By the end of the year, expect to see GNU/Linux on a wider range of x86 and ARMed devices.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
This entry was posted in technology. Bookmark the permalink.

34 Responses to GNU/Linux Returns to Walmart

  1. Adrian Malacoda says:

    I don’t think there’s a hard formula for determining whether a system is GNU or not, I think it personally comes down to history and pedigree. The GNU/Linux system started out as the GNU system, by Richard Stallman, in the ’80s. Linus Torvalds created his kernel in the early ’90s and miraculously found that everything he needed to finish “his new system” was all in one convenient place, because it was already a project to create a complete system (and not just a text editor and a compiler).

    I didn’t know GCC was actually included in Android (beats me as to why a mobile phone OS would need a C compiler, especially since it runs bytecode inside a virtual machine). It’s also my general understanding that Google tries to avoid GNU components and licenses specifically because they find the GNU licenses to be too restrictive. The reason it behaves like GNU/Linux is probably the same reason BSD behaves much like it (and presumably why a jailbroken iPhone could be made to behave like it) – they’re both “Unix like” systems.

    Google’s “What is Android” (http://developer.android.com/guide/basics/what-is-android.html) explanation gives a modest overview of the components of Android. The libc was derived from BSD and nowhere in that diagram is GCC mentioned.

    It’s important not so much for technical reasons but for ideological reasons. The GNU name embodies a set of beliefs and goals which the developers of Android ostensibly did not share (pretty much any GNU/Linux distro aside from Debian and the Linux-libre crowd don’t either, but they didn’t actually develop the system).

    I think the most authoritative voice on the matter comes from none other than the FSF itself, which never refers to Android as being a variant of GNU. FSF always refers to it either as “Android/Linux” or just “Android.”

  2. I don’t believe there is a formula dictating what it takes to be a GNU system. The original idea was an OS more or less equivalent to various UNIX OS but Free Software. Is a KVM system GNU/Linux? How different is a Dalvik system? There is a lot of GNU code in Android that is not Linux, like gcc and libraries. It behaves a lot like GNU/Linux when a smart-phone is “rooted” and that just involves supplying a few modified files. The “unrevoked” rootkit for Android is 26 MB. How large is a GNU system? How large is an Android system? It seems to me that a lot of GNU is in there already.

  3. Adrian Malacoda says:

    Hate to be a pedant, but the people saying Android isn’t GNU/Linux are correct. GNU is a specific system that happens to use the kernel called Linux. Android is another system that also uses the kernel called Linux. Debian is GNU/Linux. Ubuntu is GNU/Linux (although they’ll be hard pressed to admit that). Red Hat is GNU/Linux. Fedora is GNU/Linux. There is, thus, a reasonable expectation that a program written for any one of these distros will be able to run on another, since they are variants of one system. But a program that runs on Debian or Red Hat won’t run on Android, which has its own libraries, its own virtual machine, its own architecture, etc…

  4. oldman says:

    “To: All android bashers
    Subject: True Mobile Linux
    Message body:
    MeeGo”

    Which we see nowhere in the market…

  5. Xavier Sythe says:

    To: All android bashers
    Subject: True Mobile Linux
    Message body:
    MeeGo

  6. oldman says:

    “And to say there’s no reason to see any value-add in using GNU/Linux in a production environment (I’m guessing you want to blind everyone to only see the desktop) is disingenuous and dishonest. Don’t be vague in your definition of “value-add” since using GNU/Linux on servers and desktops have *proven* value-add in many contexts. Robert just stated a few important ones already.”

    My day job includes assisting in the support and buildout of the infrastructure of Enterprise Line of business applications that run on a farm of 250 and growing Red Hat Enterprise Linux Servers. I am well aware of the capabilities of Linux as a server class system and I actually use Linux extensively in my professional life – possibly more than YOU do!

    But the discussion here is not of linux as a server, it is linux as a personal desktop. And by Linux I mean and have allways meant what you and pog insist on calling GNU/Linux. Linux is the way that I will refer to it in my comments to Pog’s posts, just as Pog referrs to Windows as “That other OS”.

    My point is once again that Computer users run applications not operating systems. The operating system is nothing but a service provider for applications. he operating system only exists to run applications. If an application requires windows to run, then windows is what will be run – period. All of Pog’s talk of superior performance,malware resistence, etc. of the Linux desktop is IMHO completely irrelevant in the face of the simple fact that Linux cant run the application that is required – Period.

    So I ask you Mr. TK, How does Linux’s being impervious to windows based malware help me of I cant run the application that I want to run on Linux? and how does the fact that android uses the linux kernel code base and possibly some small pieces of the GNU tool chain as the nucleus of an OS that looks nothing like a Linux desktop, cant execute Linux based FOSS, enhance the position of the Linux desktop?

    Your position and the position of all those on your side of the discussion seems to be the same as saying that an apple is an orange because both use the earth that they are planted in to sustain them.

  7. Anonymous says:

    @oldman
    You’ve got the term “Linux” confused with “GNU/Linux”. Android uses Linux just like Red Hat uses Linux. They both have patchsets, and they both want mainline integration.

  8. Richard Chapman says:

    “Why should Walmart act any different with Tablets as they did with Netbooks?”

    Microsoft’s influence is waning, not waxing. Walmart may indeed dump Android for Windows 7. But this is 2011, not 2007 and 2015 will not be 2011. While everyone is focused on the desktop, Microsoft is fading. Whatever they may have controlled, they’ve lost it all but for the desktop and the office. Just try to imagine some of the discussions here taking place a decade ago.

  9. “Why should Walmart act any different with Tablets as they did with Netbooks?”

    The ASUS eeePC was a couple of models from a single source. ARMed thingies are coming out of the woodwork. There are dozens of suppliers in competition with each other competing on price and performance. M$ cannot shut them all down. Tonight at CES2011, Ballmer spent all of 5 minutes on ARM… Clearly, he’s “all-in”. He also bragged that WP7 will eventually be able to cut-and-paste. Is anyone afraid of that other OS on ARM? No. In 2011 there could be 400 million ARMed smart-thingies produced and most will run GNU/Linux, not that other OS. Ballmer boasted of 5500 apps on WP7. They are nowhere and going slowly.

    UPDATE nVidia is getting on the band-wagon producing a GPU+ARM combination emphasizing performance per watt. They are talking about competing head-to-head with x86.

    see http://www.channelregister.co.uk/2011/01/05/nvidia_arm_pc_server_chip/

    Further, M$ plans to release “8” for ARM, perhaps in 2012 giving Android etc. a two-year lead… They will be playing catch-up and I don’t fancy M$’s chances for successfully monopolizing a market in which it does not now participate. I would bet the ARMed CPUs that gleefully run Android would drag with that other OS so M$ will likely have to up-sell ARMed systems, so normal ARMed CPUs will still be cheaper and less costly to buy and operate.

    see http://www.channelregister.co.uk/2011/01/05/windows_8_arm/

  10. coldprairie says:

    oldman is correct: android is linux-derived, which is not LINUX…verstehen? obviously not.

    oooh…Windows 7 is DOS.. ROFLMAO….

  11. w. Anderson says:

    The fact of Walmart offering Android Tablets is just as meaningless as the fact that Walmart offered (past tense) Linux based Netbooks.

    In short order,IF these tablets catch on with sales, the manufacturers will be forced to replace Android with Microsoft Windows 7 mobile – or what-ever concoction of tablet software Microsoft offers – at the demand of Microsoft via Walmart management.

    Why should Walmart act any different with Tablets as they did with Netbooks?

  12. Android uses a few parts of the GNU toolset as I have pointed out a couple of times. Look in the source-tree.

  13. lol says:

    Has anyone mentioned that GNU/Linux is the linux kernel with the GNU tools running on top? And that Android doesn’t use the GNU tools so it’s NOT GNU/Linux.. ? Android is actually Android/Linux. Does it matter? Yes it does, people should not be tricked into thinking it’s something it’s not.

    /lol

  14. TK says:

    Sorry, folks, Linux the kernel is, indeed, Linux the kernel no matter what is running on top of it. Guess what? You can modify it and still call it Linux, and Google has done so with Android.

    Guess what else! Folks have fit Linux in robots, self-controlled cars, supercomputers/mega clusters, watches, toasters, PDAs, and phones (yes, phones!). The kernel is still called Linux.

    Now, there’s a bunch of comments suggesting unless it’s Linux on the desktop it doesn’t count. Sorry, but that is quite incorrect. Even if the GNU toolchain isn’t included (which apparently bits of it is in Android), the kernel is still … Linux! Lessons learned and technology gained still gets placed back into … Linux!

    And to say there’s no reason to see any value-add in using GNU/Linux in a production environment (I’m guessing you want to blind everyone to only see the desktop) is disingenuous and dishonest. Don’t be vague in your definition of “value-add” since using GNU/Linux on servers and desktops have *proven* value-add in many contexts. Robert just stated a few important ones already.

  15. Richard Chapman says:

    There seems to be a trend among some commenters to disassociate Linux from Android. In fact, any GNU/Linux gadget in danger of becoming a huge success attracts the attention of the disassociaters. Have you ever seen a game of Twister? That’s Microsoft and their followers, trying to stomp out the growing success of GNU/Linux… IN ALL ITS FORMS.

  16. oldman says:

    “I don’t get your point oldman. Folks will buy IT that does not involve that other OS given the chance. ”

    Why? Anyone who is still purchasing a general purpose computer, be it desktop or laptop, is doing it with a specific purpose in mind. In many cases that purpose involves a specific application or applications. In all cases, the computer is purchased to run that specific application(s) and the the operating system, whichever one it is, is only there because it to is a requirement of running the application. Computer users purchasing specific programs beyond web browsers and email are going to size the hardware to run the application because People run applications not operating systems.

    “With ARM, they have that chance and they will have it on all kinds of machines. ”

    What all kinds of machines Pog? the bulk of the devices running ARM are smart phones. Android itself is (right now) primarily an operating system for smart phones. It can be streached a bit for use as a mobile media consumption tool like the iPod touch, but thats it. The android that I’ve been working with these past few weeks might get streached into the netbook form factor once version Android 3.x is released. But none of the pland indicate that it will ever be userable as a general desktop OS, because that not what it was designed for.

    “GNU/Linux is GNU/Linux whether it is called Android or NewOS or SystemRescueCD. Android systems come in all kinds. Some can run native code, most run Dalvik byte-code. Who cares?”

    You are right, most people are not going to care what Android is. All they are going to care about is that they have the right mix of applications that will allow them to do what they want to with their mobile device. However that fact does not alter the fact that Android cant function as a linux desktop, because it doesnt use enough of linux to do so. In fact it has been been noted that google is not even attempting to play up the Linux component. Its not Android/Linux. Its not mobile Linux its not Linux for mobile devices? Is the Android operating system.

    “There is value-added in these systems. They have little or no malware, cost less to build, ship, sell, and they don’t slow down or require lots ot re-re-reboots. Time is money and/or aggravation.”

    None of these value-adds amount to a hill of beans if the environment that brings them to the table cant run the application that a computer user wants to run. that computer user would be far better of upgrading the hardware to meet the application requirements.

    “Consumers don’t want to waste time with that other OS. They will prefer GNU/Linux in many situations. Once they are comfortable with a diversity of OS they will not be willing to throw money at M$ for lower performance.”

    If this is the case, then why do the Wintel/MacTel constitute the lions share of the general desktop market? Why are the almost no commercial desktop applications available for the Linux desktop? The answer to this is IMHO that people dont think they are wasting time and have no trouble buying one or the other of these platforms as their needs and budget dictate.

  17. I don’t get your point oldman. Folks will buy IT that does not involve that other OS given the chance. With ARM, they have that chance and they will have it on all kinds of machines. GNU/Linux is GNU/Linux whether it is called Android or NewOS or SystemRescueCD. Android systems come in all kinds. Some can run native code, most run Dalvik byte-code. Who cares?

    There is value-added in these systems. They have little or no malware, cost less to build, ship, sell, and they don’t slow down or require lots ot re-re-reboots. Time is money and/or aggravation. Consumers don’t want to waste time with that other OS. They will prefer GNU/Linux in many situations.

    Once they are comfortable with a diversity of OS they will not be willing to throw money at M$ for lower performance.

  18. merquis says:

    I’m a Linux user, and have been for a -LONG- time, but i do use windows, and don’t hate it, i’m telling you, windows 3.11 is awesome 🙂

    No ones denying that Android and GoogleOs/chrome/whatever it will be called – is Linux, but i doubt they will trump that fact if it ever becomes mainstream (pc/netbook wise)

  19. oldman says:

    “When given a choice as in smart-thingies, consumers do choose GNU/Linux because it is great software.”

    Nonsense. Consumers are choosing smart phones running Android. Android looks NOTHING like Linux, cant execute linux based code. Calling Android linux because of the code base that constitutes what amounts to its hardware abstraction layer may make those who are pro-Linux cheer, but the proliferation of Android based smart phones will probably do NOTHING to advance the Linux desktop. That same openness that is cheered on here, will allow Android users who have desktop computers to continue the Wintel or Apple environments that they are used to.

    “FLOSS really works well in education and any field where low cost and flexibility matter.”

    But Pog, one does not even need linux to use FOSS, as most of the FOSS packages that are people might want also run on both wintel and Apple platforms.

    There is simply no value add in using Linux, except possibly the cost of the OS itself, which when amortized across the useful life of the computer is negligible.

  20. It’s not extreme to want software we can run, examine, modify and distribute. It’s not extreme for apples, carrots, cattle, etc. either. It’s quite normal.

    It’s not extreme to hate an organization with the avowed purpose of “cutting off the oxygen” from competitors. It’s quite normal to seek a market in which anyone can compete on price and performance instead of restrictions.

    I notice M$ is not placing well in Netcraft’s Hosting Survey. None in the top 10. First place for M$ is at 17 out of 42 hosters. That’s pretty lame when fans of that other OS claim it is superior to GNU/Linux. Actual businesses, these hosting companies, prefer GNU/Linux to that other OS by a wide margin when it comes to price/performance. Consumers who do not know they have a choice are a poor measure of the quality of an operating system. When given a choice as in smart-thingies, consumers do choose GNU/Linux because it is great software.

  21. Yonah says:

    Shannon VanWagner, AKA Bicep, asks, “What’s with these anti-Linux posters anyway? If their operating system is so great, why do they need to bash the FREE stuff so much?”

    We “anti-Linux” posters don’t hate Linux, but we aren’t impressed by it either. What does bother us are the extremists that Linux seems to attract and the behavior we observe from such people. We conclude your hate for Microsoft is immature, your obsession over Linux is unhealthy, and your adherence to FOSS principals are mostly self-serving.

    For me personally, the partisan mind is a frighting and abhorrent thing and most certainly worth fighting against. Even if only for entertainment purposes.

  22. When folks are “partners” of the slave-master, freedom threatens business. Since Free Software is often free of licensing costs the OEMs and retailers often look at is less opportunity for markup. They should see it as greater opportunity for sales with larger margins but M$ forced them into that pattern many years ago and they find “thinking outside the box” risky.

    On a more personal basis, people just see any change that devalues stuff they know as a personal threat. They react angrily. It’s a base instinct.

    I like to look at IT on the basis of what works best and FLOSS really works well in education and any field where low cost and flexibility matter. Business, unfortunately, sees cost and inflexibility as things that can be passed on to the consumer…

  23. Bravo POG.. This is an awesome blog entry!
    Funny to see people get their shorts all in a bunch over Google’s use and promotion of both FOSS and GNU/Linux. There’s the FOSS Android, and now the Chrome OS Linux, not to mention all the hundreds(perhaps thousands) of FOSS projects over at code.google.com. Google builds Android, Chrome OS Linux, et. al. on “high performance” (Ub)Goobuntu GNU/Linux desktops, no msft windows required. Without GNU, Operating Systems that use Linux as the Kernel would not be where they are today… Heck, booting up, compiling code, or even doing simple things like showing the contents of a directory, moving stuff around, and so many other essential processes would not be the same without GNU. Even Linus Torvalds himself (creator of Linux) once said the best thing he ever did was GPL(as in from the Free Software Foundation, you know, the people that made GNU) license his work. Here’s to the future of GNU/Linux/FOSS/Android/Chrome! Humans enabled, that’s what Technology is for… Keep it rolling. What’s with these anti-Linux posters anyway? If their operating system is so great, why do they need to bash the FREE stuff so much?

  24. Martin Owens says:

    This is why the term ‘Linux’ to describe an OS is dishonest and confusing. So would be Gnu before any of you start.

    I liked the term FreeDesktop, those OSes which subscribe to the FreeDesktop.org specs strongly like Ubuntu, Fedora etc. I’d have been happy to use LSB but LSB mandates RPM so that means no Debian derivative is LSB.

    Isn’t it nice we have such a nice community

  25. sammy says:

    “IN summary , It seems to me that When Android can execute FOSS directly it is Linux, otherwise it is not Linux”.

    I think some clarification is needed here. Linux is the kernel, nothing more and nothing less. When you see Ubuntu, PCLinuxOS, Suse…that is a software package built ontop of the Linux kernel.

    A OS-(operating system(s))such as BSD, Windows, and Mac are kernels with software attached.

  26. Agreed, there is not much GNU in Android but there is a bit and it definitely has a Linux kernel. Perhaps Android/Linux would be a better term.

    You can see it here: http://android.git.kernel.org/

    and here:http://android.git.kernel.org/?p=toolchain/gcc.git;a=summary

    GCC is part of GNU, eh?

    Even GRUB is in there:
    “VaX#n8 (real name unknown) wrote shared_src/fsys_ext2fs.c.

    Heiko Schroeder rewrote shared_src/stage1.S to be more readable.

    The following authors assigned copyright on their work to the Free Software Foundation:

    Erich Stefan Boleyn originally designed and implemented GRUB.

    Gordon Matzigkeit adopted GRUB into the GNU Project. He fixed several bugs, added symbolic link support to shared_src/fsys_ext2fs.c, and began the implementation of /sbin/grub. He was an official maintainer….

  27. ray says:

    @lpbbear

    Umm… Google isn’t linux you know, it’s a software company.

  28. oldman says:

    “Android is an OS built on the Linux kernel and a virtual machine interpreting byte-code.”

    “The facts may not suit your world view but you can’t deny them by simply and pompously declaring them invalid.”

    Points Taken. I stand guilty of not elaborating my point. Let me try this from the top.

    Re Android being Linux because it uses the linux kernel as a code base: Taking advantage of the jump start that the Linux Kernel code gave does not make it anything more than Linux derived. Android is about as much Linux as OS X is NextStep because both use the Mach Kernel

    Re: Ipbears comments: I would submit that Android isnt Linux just as, Windows Phone 7 ISNT windows 7, nor is iOS OS X. None of these mobile device OS’s can directly execute the applications that run on their desktop OS cousins directly.

    Re suiting world views: I would like to point out that this notion that the Linux desktop is going to be “pulled along” by android is itself a non-sequitur. I say this because thus far, iPhone/iPod users have been more likely to connect their devices to a windows desktop than to apple.

    IN summary , It seems to me that When Android can execute FOSS directly it is Linux, otherwise it is not Linux.

  29. Dann says:

    Android isn’t GNU/Linux.
    But it is Linux

  30. Richard Chapman says:

    Walmart might have huge American flag waving over its headquarters but their allegiance to money. They are squarely in Microsoft’s pocket but if they can make a few cents more on a million or so sales, they’ll defect. And they’ll switch back just as quickly.

    There is another disturbing fact about Walmart. Their marketing power is so strong, they can pressure manufactures into changing the specs on devices they sell. I saw it myself when I carefully researched a Casio keyboard. So the XA-123U gadget you by at Newegg for 199.99 and the XA-123Ua you buy at Walmart for 179.99, are not the same.

  31. lpbbear says:

    “Android isn’t Linux pog.”

    How seriously silly does one have to be to make a statement like that?

    Google IS Linux.
    Android IS Linux.

    As are a growing number of other products and services.

    These are SUCCESSFUL Linux based products that are making a HUGE and FAVORABLE impact with consumers.

    Saying…

    “Android isn’t Linux pog.”

    is as silly and pretentious as me saying….

    “IPhone isn’t Apple pog.”

    or….

    “Windows Phone 7 isn’t Windows pog.”

    The facts may not suit your world view but you can’t deny them by simply and pompously declaring them invalid.

  32. Repeating that does not make it so. Android is an OS built on the Linux kernel and a virtual machine interpreting byte-code.

    “Android is built on the open Linux Kernel. Furthermore, it utilizes a custom virtual machine that was designed to optimize memory and hardware resources in a mobile environment.”

    see Android Overview

  33. Oldman says:

    Android isn’t Linux pog.

Leave a Reply