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back to article From messiah to pariah: The death of open source on mobile

Open source has gone from pariah to messiah in the past decade, but it has yet to find a place at the mobile table, and risks being rendered obsolete. Sure, it's not hard to find examples of open-source apps for iOS or Android, but the very premise of open source is under siege in the mobile world. Don't expect that to change …

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Pint

Huh?

This article is complete gibberish.

How is the average user going to access the non-existent "Sourceforge App Store" on an iphone? Given that apple don't let you install from anywhere except their app store? Are you suggesting people jailbreak their iphones? As a workaround for Apple banning GPL apps?

And where are these HTML5 apps that people are distributing? Is there any evidence AT ALL that people are buying cheap apps, because they're cheap, and that's somehow STOPPING THEM INSTALLING FREE APPS? Even if you take "free" to mean "open source"? If there is, I don't know where you see that evidence, and the article certainly doesn't make it clear.

Why not run an article on whether unicorns are influencing people's choice of apps? With their pointy pointy horns and white skin, they've done more to turn the tide from open source to paid apps than just about anything I can arbitrarily invent when i've run out of ideas for articles.

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Re: Huh?

I imagine they would access the non-existant app store in the same way they would access the Amazon App Store that's already been announced, using an Android device.

Or did you think only Apple's users buy and install applications from an online store?

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sacred cow: gored

Yeah, actually, much as it might hurt the feelings of some, cheap-but-not-free App Store apps *can* stop people installing free apps -- if it takes fifteen minutes of finding, downloading, installing, configuring, and general screwing-around-with to get the free open-source stuff working, and if all it takes to get the App Store stuff working is half a minute and a couple of bucks, then why *shouldn't* anyone go with the App Store option?

Especially since the App Store version has been pre-vetted to meet a user-interface standard; precisely whose standard that is is less important than the knowledge that there's *some* requirement being enforced, thus making it much less likely that I'll be subjected to the painfully-hard-to-use bizarrerie that results when developers are given free license to do whatever the hell they like with the user interface.

(Granted, the standard might itself be crap; in most cases I still prefer a crap standard to no standard at all, because in the latter case you end up rooting through piles of dogshit in hopes of finding a diamond. If rhinestones are all I need, then I'd rather get rhinestones as a sure thing, rather than a chance of diamonds and a certainty of getting dogshit all over my hands.)

As with Linux, so with most of the rest of open-source software in general: it's only "free" if your time has no value. (I'd add to that: and if you have no requirement with regard to quality.) That may not make a difference to hardcore open-source geeks, but here in the real world it sure as hell does; my clients pay me for doing their work, not for endless open-source fiddle-fuckery, and I can't honestly say that I blame them.

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FUD

Free if your time has no value? I assume that you either work for MSFT or haven't seen Linux, LibreOffice, etc. in the last few years.

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Linux

Re @AC 16:33

"Free if your time has no value? I assume that you either work for MSFT or haven't seen Linux, LibreOffice, etc. in the last few years."

Those are the "diamonds" he was referring to. Granted, I don't recall any end-user GPL stuff that takes even 30min to install and configure. Note "end-user stuff" doesn't include Apache or Bind9, but even Apache works out-of-the-box....

I will grant that it's hard to find an obscure-purpose GPL application that has made it out of alpha/beta phase and into 1.0 territory though.

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Linux

Apple replaces Microsoft replaces Edison

> As with Linux, so with most of the rest of

> open-source software in general: it's only

> "free" if your time has no value.

That's funny because a lot of us Linux users were using this "App Store" approach to installing software LONG before Apple decided to copy it.

You should find some newer FUD.

That line wasn't even really accurate even when it was first uttered.

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digits

this guy worked for canonical lol

what a disaster comical is

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Dear sacred cow, pig, dog, crap...

You wrote an awful lot of tripe in your diatribal response. It's kind of funny really that it showed clearly how much you actually know about your chosen subject. Diddly-squat!!!

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Flame

The bigger problem.

But the elephant in the room is "trust".

Open Source, if it is to be really successful (in ideology terms, rather than units shipped) will come from "the little guy", someone you've probably not heard of. The "bug guy" always has an agenda; he has to, he's answerable to shareholders and they want to see effort (investment) turned into profit.

The "little guy" often builds software because he needs it, his motivation is simple; "I need this, I can build it, if I share it then people will help me".

The problem is you don't know the little guy. There is always someone who wants to break this covenant for profit.

So "the bad guy" can take the little guy's effort, add something undesirable (malware), then make it available.

How does the end consumer tell? Is this written by "the little guy" or "the bad guy"?

I don't see a technical solution. Until this is properly addressed (if that's even possible) then paying "the big guy" seems preferable for consumers.

Which brings us into Apple's App Store. While some won't like it, it is probably the best thing consumers have. A store with a gatekeeper, checking products, rejecting products, distributing products. It isn't perfect, bad stuff can slip through, but Apple do seem to make this a rare event. Good for consumers, bad for open source. But now we've seen how much malware there is in Android Marketplace, and how damaging that can be, our choice is clear.

I for one, welcome our fruity overlords; the alternative is too dangerous.

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Trust?

I don't think trust is a big issue for most purchasers. If they trust Facebook with their data, I don't think they're really approaching this from the same angle you are. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that it is the other way around. If I buy a piece of software, whether that's a small-house app like the Penguinet terminal emulator, or some bad mother like Excel, I am actually very happy to pay them the money because it gives me more of a reason to trust and rely on them. They want money. I have money. We have a basis for trade. I have seldom found promises a good sole reason to go with a solution. Same in various private projects I've done - I've had people willing to work voluntarily and I have instead said: "no - this is what I want, and this is money for it". And that has served me much better.

As demonstrated by the people rushing to pay £0.99 for their app, free or unfree in financial terms isn't the issue. By all means ask me to pay for your software. If I want it and it's £0.99, I'll buy it. Telling me I can save £0.99 isn't going to persuade me to go with your solution. The pluses of Libre software are the Free as in Speech, not Free as in Beer. I wonder if some people have mistaken which is most important.

We can't allow people to control the marketplace. That is the blow to FOSS. Money is neither here nor there.

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Jobs Halo

In every little guy...

... is a big guy struggling to get out.

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Linux

Free software is not about money...

You write software then you can charge for it. Free (OSS or GPL) software means you get the source code with it & so you can update it & make it better. You can also then charge for it but because it is OSS you have to provide the new source as well...

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Coat

Ouch

Does anyone have a crowbar and some muscle relaxant?

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Jobs Halo

Apple and the GPL apps

Some smart-bottom tried to get apple to change their terms of service, these being incompatible with the GPL, on the ground that they distribute GPL apps. Apple decided that it would be easier to simply remove all GPL apps from the store.

As much as I don't usually care for Apple, you cannot blame them for this one.

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Re: Apple and the GPL apps

"Some smart-bottom tried to get apple to change their terms of service, these being incompatible with the GPL, on the ground that they distribute GPL apps. Apple decided that it would be easier to simply remove all GPL apps from the store."

No, they merely said that Apple can't distribute GPL-licensed software and apply terms to such software that prevent redistribution (or "sharing" if you want a shorter word) of that software. Since Apple want everyone to get "apps" from them and only them, preferably with money involved, there was only one thing they could do if they weren't willing to budge from their control freak mindset.

Other companies would probably have had a clause in their terms saying that those terms do not override specific software licensing conditions, and thus would yield to such conditions where necessary. That's a well-established means of not violating other people's licences.

Apple, of course, want to control everything. When people finally learn this (presumably after having their "apps" banned from the Apple services for some arbitrary reason for the nth time) they'll have the sense to take their software elsewhere and let the "app" bubble deflate.

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Pirate

I think this untrue...

Apple actually started with an OS, BSD-UNIX, that was basically a free software. I wonder what would happen to Apple if Berkeley decided to sue Apple for breach of agreement?

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FAIL

And as such we see an idiot

Developers want to make money, you seem to miss that point. Apple tackels the #1 and #2 reasons that pre-app store software was expensive and that is piracy and distribution. It's not about controling users, It's about ensuring developers get paid. Before the Iphone over 90% of all mobile phone software was pirated. Apple mostly solved the problem which is why developers are willing to sell software for $5 that they had sold for $25 previously.

Also Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft each charge tens of thousands of dollars for their SDK's while making it explicit that buying a kit dosn't mean that any game you produce for their consol will be allowed to be sold. Yet developers havn't abbandoned the consol market. I can see why you are an Anonymous Coward, even in your own retarded way you seem to understand what you posted was drivel.

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FAIL

The fail was with think

Nothing as Berkeley will never sue Apple, this was all sorted out in the late 80's early 90's and with no involvmeant from apple.

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Jobs Halo

Free Open Source does not have to be given away

If you want to charge for Open Source I understand that's up to you. Since normally you would be competing against other servers offering the download for free then you would be unlikely to make any sales. However if you have to charge 99c to get the software onto the Apple store then you probably would take money if people can't be bothered to look for the free version.

I don't see how this hurts open source.

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VLC

Apple took VLC down because of a copyright infringement complaint from one of the contributors to the VLC source code. Many of the other VLC contributors were pissed off by his move.

One person throwing his toys out the pram because he thinks he could make apple change their licence, buggered it for everyone else.

I don't know of any other ports of GPL software that have been by Apple solely.

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Flame

Re: VLC

"One person throwing his toys out the pram because he thinks he could make apple change their licence, buggered it for everyone else."

Nope: just because some people are apathetic about end-users getting the privileges written in the licence doesn't mean that everyone involved has to accept such licensing violations. After all, people have agreed to contribute their code in the understanding that the end-user can, say, share that software with their friends. If a bunch of people are whining that "it's OK, I don't mind Apple stripping rights that I promised to people" then it is they who need to clue up about the social contract they've entered into.

And Apple could do as many other providers do and accept the licensing terms of submitted software by allowing those terms to override their own where appropriate. That they accepted a GPL-licensed product into their walled garden, knowing that their own terms conflict with the terms applied to the software, would indicate that Apple were knowingly in the wrong regardless of whatever you may assert about toys and prams.

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The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

It's the programmer's right to see his license abided by. It's Apple's business to make sure their terms are no so outrageously draconian that they step on copyleft licenses. Although at least Apple didn't explicitly ban GPL like Microsoft did.

There is a real political battle going on and all this talk of features, functions and other such rubbish is a distraction from the ready fitted shackles you're all buying.

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FAIL

Cry me a river

Why not just have the balls to use a name, we all recognise the crap you post. Also what evidence do you have that Apple are stupid enougth to send every app to the lawyers to chech if it breakes ther licence. One of the reasons for posting what will and will not be accepted is to reduce cost.

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Grenade

Erm

His objection was that the Apps have DRM, but the app was freely available through the app store anyway. The source code was available. This is in the spirit of the GNU licence, maybe not to the letter.

His need to stir up politics for his own amusement has seriously harmed the perception of opensource software.

Hilariously, the person who requested VLC be removed from the app store, Rémi Denis, works for Nokia. Now he has Win Phone 7 to look forward to.

Almost makes you believe in karma.

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FAIL

FOC!=FREE

It's an easy mistake for a novice to make. Matt Asay, with his experience at Ubuntu, doesn't have that excuse though. Free software (and to a lesser extent, 'open source') isn't just about being free of charge. Without wanting to state the obvious, Android devices have no problem with free, i.e. GPL software, whether through the Android Market or other sources. Unlike iPhone and WP7, it's not necessary for the user to jump through any hoops to do this.

Quality lower on GPL apps than closed source? Are you serious? First of all, can we finally dispel the myth that all GPL coding is done by amateurs. It's never been true on the desktop, as numerous studies have shown. In the case of these mobile devices, it's still very much the case that the ad-supported apps can generate very substantial profits for a commercial developer without having to be closed source. If it's really felt necessary to 'protect' the app from copying by others, it's possible to copyright the media content in the app, but still keep the code itself free. Secondly, the code quality of closed source Vs free software has been examined on several occasions and free, open development models have always been shown to have far fewer bugs. Thirdly, if a commercial developer wants to create a free, ad-supported app with copyright media content, they have every incentive to ensure the interface is of the highest quality. The business model of ad-supported relies on people being able to download without a second thought and to copy and redistribute freely. The faster an app spreads, the more ad hits it generates. Sure, it's a different model to selling an app for cash, but even very small sums like 99p are enough to casual downloads.

So, what about 'big name' apps? Is Matt Asay seriously suggesting that it's not possible to justify developing and offering a game like Angry Birds for free, using an ad-supported model?

It's now more or less taken as a given that Android will be the biggest volume player in the mobile space. Given the clamour for that particular app as the first really big mobile game, can you really imagine iPhone users being happy when a similarly popular app appears on Android for free and they either can't have it at all, or it costs them cash just because of Apple's policies? And even if they are happy, can you imagine the chilling effect on the iPhone platform as a whole if it's then seen by everyone who hasn't already settled into that camp for what it is - expensive and limited, just to support Apple's closed business model?

Now, about business use. It's often been said that the majority of business applications are custom built and that the vast majority of programmers work on in-house code. The reason FLOSS works so well for business is the ease of customising pre-built applications, and of letting others share the development effort. There are enormous business advantages of eschewing the 'one size fits all' approach of closed source vendors for applications which truly fit the needs of the individual business. In what way is a mobile platform for business not as capable of benefiting from open, custom app development as a desktop platform?

Given Matt Asay's experience, I'd have to conclude that this piece is no more than flamebait.

Oh........

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Anonymous Coward

As Mrs Brown said...

...to Paddington Bear, "when you've got nothing to say, say nothing"

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Anonymous Coward

and as James Hacked added...

...to Bernard, "better yet, have something to say and say it, no matter what!"

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I don't see the connection

If someone pays 99 cents for an app and can have access to the code from the developer's site, what's the problem?

The key idea of free software is that each of us can become developers and build on eachothers' work. As long as the source code is available then that is achievable and nothing in Apple's contract prevents it, AFAIK (I could be wrong, given the nature of Apple's fascist tendencies but I've not heard that they actually prevent you publishing your code).

If I produce an app under GPL, and publish the code somewhere that users can download it all it means is that you can use my code to do the same. NOTHING prevents either of us from selling pre-compiled versions for $0.99 or 5,000,000 euro for that matter.

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Jobs Halo

The problem is this.

What will happen is that the second developer will sell the same, or a slightly changed version of that app on App Store too. So the second developer profits from the first developers hard work. Then comes a third developer posting his own version, then a fourth...

And in no time App Store is filled with a gazillion copies of identical or slightly different versions of the same app, none of which is making any money.

So if you want to make a living from writing and selling apps, giving away the source code isn't going to work.

But it can get worse. If you give away the app and developer two sells the app, he makes more money than you. All of it, in fact, until the third and fourth developer find out.

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So?

Well, this is how Apple got where they are today - copying ideas and, in the case of OS/X, code - from other people and building on it. Even the early Apple I and IIs were based on combining off-the self components someone else had made.

*Let* them all copy each other and let Dawrin sort it out.

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FAIL

WTF,

You forgot to mention the stuff that Woz worked out himself but really why bother to post, we can go all the way back to the stone age with your argument

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Silver badge

Stone age?

Why not? Woz did add lots of stuff, but he built on what had come before. It is that ability to not start from scratch every time that actually got us out of the stone age.

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FAIL

Open Source != Free

Free as in speech, not free as in beer...

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FOSS for money

I don't see why some of the non-profit foundations can't sell open source apps. All they need to do is make the source available, not supply it with the app.

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open source

>examples of open-source apps for iOS or Android,

Like iOS (BSD-Darwin) or Android (Linux) ?

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Anonymous Coward

Open Source needs an App app

What open source needs is a mobile package manager as an app. You download the package manager, it works just like it does on Linux: You get categories of software and all of it is free and open source software available for zero dollars. It gets around the GPL restriction: Put the package manager under the BSD license and you can get it in the app store. And then Apple and Microsoft don't have to distribute GPL software themselves, because the app downloads them straight from the repositories.

Of course, they could just ban the "package manager" app. No doubt Apple would -- "competes with base phone functionality" or whatever, plus they wouldn't be able to censor any of the programs in it.

But consider that Android is clearly the most friendly platform for open source anyway. Now consider their troubles with malware. Wouldn't a package manager where e.g. the Debian people decide what goes in, and therefore ensure that basically none of it is malware, be of great utility to people?

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Unhappy

MicroSerfs

All your code efforts are belong to us as Steve Le Batard might say.

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This is the real story of Nokia/Microsoft

This is the real story of Nokia getting into bed with Microsoft. Maemo/Meego is no longer a O/S with a huge future; it's been sidelined and OpenSource on mobile has effectively been sidelined with it.

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Gates Horns

The Nokia / MS thing is just a convenient excuse to pull the plug

It was *Maemo* which had the huge future. When they merged with Moblin we ended up with...well nothing really.

Meego meant pretty much starting again from scratch, for no reason whatsoever, both in terms of the technology and the community.

Intel's hubris killed Maemo, then the Nokia / MS deal simply took Meego off life support. Now they are both pining for the fjords and there is nothing comparable to replace them.

Which is an arse. The N900 is easily the best phone I have ever used, but mine cannot last forever....

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Is this about Free or Open Source?

This is a very confused story. What's wrong with an OSS 99c app? Why is that such a bad thing?

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FAIL

Just hurts Apple

I do not see Apple pulling GPLed apps from the app store as harming open source; rather, it will harm Apple and those who still choose to be Apple customers. This will just increase the flow of programmers who are jumping ship away from writing for Apple products, and increase the number writing for Android devices instead.

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FAIL

I am not sure you are right.

There is one big problem with your article. It's based on the current high positions of Apple's phones in market, Apple and the believe that restrictions on the app-store there will remove too much of the instant-gratification from FOSS for it to make sense to users.

Now your logic is sound, but short-term. Apple's position is already wavering. Every single quarterly results output from the past two years have shown a steady growth in Android adoption, with the expected start of the resulting decline in iPhone adoption already visible in the last quarter and there is absolutely no reason to believe this trend will not continue.

And with android, not only is there no restrictions on licenses for the app-store (nor likely to ever be any) the actual Operating System on the phones is itself open-source (though it's not free software - but it comes pretty close, and free software custom-roms do exist).

Apples has been funging their true results on IOS by including tablet sales - excluding those you see that Apple is actually significantly underselling against Android in the phone market and there is no reason whatsoever to assume that this trend will not repeat itself as several Android tablets hit the market this year.

That alone will change the face of the marketplace. When Android started - we were told it wouldn't work because developers wont' develop for it -after all, the iphone market is bigger and it's already there. This didn't happen.

Then Jobs told us that not restricting development and the app-store meant that developers have too wide a base to develop for and this meant worse apps - that was proven bunk when the very example he cited tweeted to state that it was bunk and they in fact spent LESS developer time on their android version than on their iphone version !

The truth is that what we're seeing on the phones is nothing new at all. In the 1980's Jobs pushed a PC that was limited and restricted, hard to upgrade part-by-part and highly closed up. It sold well. Eventually though the IBM compatibles took over because they were open, this made them not just cheaper to run but more powerful and users ended up demanding that power.

At first - when new technology comes along, the restricted version looks more attractive to users - less abilities mean less to learn, it seems "simpler". WIthin a few years the technology is no longer new, and now users want to use them to their full potential - that's when they start moving to the open versions because without that potential is simply impossible to obtain.

That's what happened with PC's. You can mitigate it a bit like Microsoft did by making your system more and more LIKE the open one (much like Windows 7 bears an uncanny resemblance to KDE4 which is quite a bit older) but Jobs has never done that before and he shows no sign of doing so now.

Google is bargaining on the same thing happening in phones and we're already seeing the start of it. Jobs won't change to avoid it, it doesn't matter to him. Apple will cash in on the early market "less is more" attitude for as long as possible, and then just stop caring about not making money on their phones anymore.

Since the 1980's Jobs found a new trick - whenever you get to the point where those restrictions annoy too many people, stop pushing the product, just get the restricted version of the NEXT major technology wave out first.

Before long smartphones will be common-place, most people will be on their second or third and Android will probably rule the market. Apple will be making a fortune out of some new toy.

That means the part of the market where open-source has the biggest footprint and the highest level of instant gratification is the part that will keep growing. Ultimately the 99c apps won't be there at all.

Finally - your assertion that commercial cost apps are likely to be "higher quality" than FOSS "because of the investment' is utter bunk and you know it.

We've proven that argument false over and over. Sourceforge alone has over 1.2 million developers registered now. If each of them just spends 1 hour a week on their open-source work, that gives the open-source ecosystem more developer man-hours per day than Microsoft, IBM and Apple combined - by an entire order of magnitude - even if you count the developers doing open-source work *at* those companies in both sides of the equation.

Most FOSS is developed with investment and a lot of it is done for profit. Not selling software for a purchase price has never prevent FOSS from doing it for money. So the "investment" argument is ludicrous anyway but even among hobbyist code FOSS has consistently shown higher average quality in almost every field than their proprietory competition.

Photoshop is a rare exception - but this is much more a case of market establishment for a very complex type of software that takes a long time to learn (and thus has very high user inertia) than it is a case of the FOSS alternatives not being of comparable (or better) quality. Both Krita and GIMP are excellent competition for it, and both have stronger features in many areas. Another is cases like business accounting software where legal restrictions place a significant burden on developers, but in the sphere of server-software and general user-side applications the trend is very clear.

As a final bit of proof. Exactly this trend even happened within the FOSS desktop space - KDE and GNOME were comparable in the early 21st century, then GNOME went the way of "ultra restricted" (to the point where Linus called it "Braindead") while KDE went the way of more and more freedom. When KDE4 came out, users were initially very unhappy and GNOME was suddenly praised (for the first time in their history GNOME's userbase actually grew LARGER than KDE's) ... this didn't last.

As we speak the development on the next version of GNOME is going the exact same route that KDE4 did - they shouldn't see the same backlash because KDE already paved the way, but those same features that a few years ago scared users off are now deemed essential by them. Those features were almost verbatim duplicated by Microsoft in VISTA (though they didn't get them usable until Window 7).

In the long run, the option that lets users do the most with their stuff *always* wins. In the short term, technophobia gives the edge to the options that reduce the capabilities. But this is never the ultimate outcome and we have 50 years of computing history proving that.

*FAIL* because the article thinks the world ends in 2012.

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The problem with Open Source...

As someone who has contributed to a couple of Open Source initiatives, I have to say that the problem is not with the whole Open Source ethos but with the consumers it attracts. The seems to be a massive entitlement issue with these people as they believe that as the source is free then the time and resources of the developers are also free and they (the developers) must respond to all demands for installation requests, technical support and code/design customisation.

And when one of these consumers tells you that 'if you had a donate button, I'd send you some money'; don't believe them. I've had a donate button up on my site for over half a year and it hasn't had a single hit.

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FAIL

Android ??

So... an analysis of app stores "on mobile" makes no mention at all of the (presently) fastest-growing mobile environment and its app store - Android.

How so ?? Perhaps because it could be a counter-example ??

This is nearly as bad as the "digital - vs - analog (sic) business model" article.

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Anonymous Coward

The problem is really with GPL3 and DRM

Although it is not as clear cut as "publish an app under GPL3 and you must publish the DRM keys" but it is close enough to make it simpler for Apple etc. to just refuse to accept anything protected by GPL3.

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WTF?

Apple pulling GPL?

If Apple are pulling GPL code from the iphone/ipad, shouldn't they pull Webkit too?

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Silver badge

WebKit's LGPLv2.1 or BSD.

And I think Apple are only pulling GPLv3 - a lot of things are still published under GPLv2

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Bronze badge

Not Apple

From everything I have read, it has not been Apple that has initiated any of the pulling - it has always been at the request of a supposed rights holder - certainly was with VLC, as noted above.

As far as I can see, Apple doesn't mind if you post a GPL app to their store, but since the GPL is incompatible with Apple's T's&C's, they have no choice but to remove anything they are notified about.

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Anonymous Coward

Huh?

>Sure, it's not hard to find examples of open-source apps for iOS or Android, but the very premise of open source is under siege in the mobile world

Not sure I understand - there's 10K's of OSS Apps for Android - aside from the stack itself being OSS. Why lump it in with MS and iOS which are based on models aiming to pull in revenue from App Stores and actively ban many OSS licenses from them.

I know you're fond of talking up Ubuntu, but it hardly even figures in the scheme of things 1% of desktops maybe - Android is actually a mainstream consumer Linux/OSS success story, in fact its the only one really.

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Dead Vulture

n900

nuf said...

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