back to article Penguin chief: Linux must 'out fabulous' Apple's iPhone

Apple, not Windows, is Linux's prime competitor on smart phones, according to a top Linux representative. Jim Zemlin has told suits reading BusinessWeek that with its declining market share Windows is an also-ran in mobile computing and Linux has emerged as the main competitor to Apple. The Linux Foundation's executive …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He'd better avoid "meego", then

    ..I installed the release of that on my Netbook, and it made me want to vomit up my own arse. It was only "fabulous" in terms of nasty colours that would make most tasteful trannies retch.

    Android is doing just fine, though, especially with HTC sense over the top.. quite pleasant to use on my Desire. The interface isn't as usable or responsive as an iPhone, and the music player is made of fail, but it's getting there.

    1. Cameron Colley

      I just tried Meego today.

      I like it! Well, with a qualifier that I only spent a few minutes on it and couldn't work out how/if you could multitask (I'm sure it's simple).

      The colours I can agree on -- but I'm generally colour agnostic so they don't bother me as a day-to-day thing.

      Meego seems to me to be a nice, straighforward, menu system on top of Linux -- which is about all it needs to be.

      Doesn't mean I'll be changing to it from Easy Peasy any time soon -- but that's because I'd a .deb fan and not for any interface worries.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        I hated meego

        The included clients (other than chrome) are horribly perfunctory and lacking features, and worst of all, the wireless drops ALL THE FLAMING TIME on my netbook (rt2860-based device).

        Also, the interface is horrid. It's not "computery" enough to be like linux, and not "devicey" enough to be as nice as an Android box or an iPad.

        Oh, and the twee "meego is cool" cartoons are dreadful. It bloody isn't!

    2. Antony Riley

      Title Required

      Android isn't Linux, it got thrown out of the kernel tree remember.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        It has sinced returned to fold after a love in at this years patches started emerging in April.....and Google has since hired two new developers specifically to work with the kernel team.

        Problem with open source politics is that is far too dull to keep up with.....not surprised no-one actually noticed.

    3. ScioScio

      Open Source not doing well?

      The problem with Android is that it isn't really the best example of open source, a lot of the development happens behind closed doors and it is released under Apache.

      As for Meego, I would expect it to be more like Maemo on a phone just as it is like Moblin on a tablet. Maemo was pretty good IMHO

      Also, open source does not only mean Linux, Symbian is open source too. It is looking much improved in terms of "shiny and cool" than it's previous incarnations and can only get better.

      I notice Symbian wasn't mentioned once in the article yet it is fully open source and is the most dominant smart phone operating system worldwide(40%+ market share). It seems to me the market is for open source (if not Linux in particular) to lose and not Apple.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Up

      Nice :)

      "made me want to vomit up my own arse"

      I'll be using that from this day forward to describe most things that I inherently dislike... Tories, Lib Dems, Labour, squirrels, black forest gateau, toilet brushes etc.

      And back to the article, I don't think Linux is getting us anywhere in the mobile space. There seem to be far too many different versions out there all controlled by different people/organisations, all with different ideas on what looks good and what consumers want. It's the same as the desktop space. Ubuntu is better than SuSe is better than RedHat etc.

      I guess that's why Apple have been doing so well - people saw the iPhone as a simple alternative, and what has kept the momentum going are the extra features and speed increases. Yes, they lag behind sometimes in their technology stack, but they catch up and sometimes exceed (Retins display for example), and people still see the iPhone as a better alternative to Linux phones because the integration is so good.

      I've had every brand of phone there is, and the iPhone does everything I need a phone to do, easily. That's precisely what people want. The average consumer doesn't give two hoots about having the greatest camera on there, or being able to whack an SD card into the side of it.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        My concern is the "weight" of Linux.

        I have two PVRs. One is an "iPod recorder" built by Unisen in China, the other is the Neuros OSD. Both contain the same core - a TMS320DM320, along with AIC23 for sound and TVP5150 for video. The Neuros has multiple card readers (SD, CF, etc), ethernet, and numerous "features" including a choice of audio codec (MP3 or AAC), and different video quality from 256kbit (ho ho) up to 2500kbit (damned near DVD quality). It also looks good on-screen. The Unisen box looks pretty icky on-screen (very obviously low-res-ish bitmapped). It is pathologically fixed to record everything at 30fps and spit out NTSC. It works "acceptably" with 25fps PAL, but proper support would be better. You can, like the Neuros, choose the image size, but the quality level is fixed (approx. 800kbps VBR as far as I can tell).

        So obviously the Neuros is the winner, right? I really like my OSD, and with my screwed up work hours I rely on it a lot.

        But, hang on. While the resultant .mp4 identifies the core video library to be the same, and I can't imagine there are that many places you can get NDA-locked DSP code, there are enormous differences in the firmware. The Unisen runs what appears to be a custom monolithic system in (I think) 8Mb FlashROM. To be honest, it looks it could be a reworking of the sort of thing hat might be supplied with evaluation boards. :-) It is simple and to the point. The OSD is also simple, to use. Bright and clear menus, it runs a hacked-down Qt4 Debian from CF card, having outgrown the 16Mb Flash. I can telnet into the box to "df -h" to see easily how much space I have left. I installed dosfsck to keep an eye on my devices, for I don't feel I can trust Microsoft to look after their own disc format.

        Then, the truth. The Unisen box boots from power-up in around twenty seconds. The OSD takes closer two minutes. Press REC, the Unisen box starts recording in about four seconds. The OSD takes around 16-20. On the Unisen box, pressing Play during record toggles between a blinking red thing in the corner, or full overlaid info. It does this instantly. Pressing '?' for info banner on the OSD can take up to 8 seconds.

        I can see many benefits to a standardised operating system, it can span differences in phone hardware, it can offer faster development times than building something from the ground up, plus enhanced security through a long history of peer review and development.

        Perhaps what we need is a severely cut down and reworked Linux aimed specifically at the needs of lightweight devices? I'm sure there are many design decisions that make perfect sense to a solid hardcore server, but which may not translate as well to a little 200MHz ARM powered video recorder that can fit into the palm of my hand...

        1. Neil 7

          @My concern is the "weight" of Linux

          One word: TiVo

          The TiVo Series 1 PVR ran a 54Mhz IBM PPC (about 50 Bogomips - much less power than a typical modern WiFi router, an ARM Cortex-A8 clocks in at 500 bogomips) with 16MB RAM and it flawlessly recorded and scheduled programme content, learned what you liked to watch, indexed weeks of programme guide and offered it up in various ways for your consumption, all without any lag - it worked instantly. Record a programme? Sub-second.

          The Series 1 ran Linux on a 2.1.24 kernel, which suggests the coding of the higher level functionality on your new PVRs is likely to be the problem, and not the operating system.

  2. Arkasha


    "Zemlin belives Apple is fated to go the way of Sun Microsystems, which also believed it could beat Linux by controlling the full hardware and software stack."

    Plus Apple are going a step further and trying to control the content. I think Apple will go down quicker than Sun.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Zemlin gets it

    The user experience matters. Design is all. Everything else is secondary.

  4. Duncan Hothersall

    Did anyone think Windows was the prime competitor?

    Symbian is a better contender.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Really? Do you really believe that?


      Symbian is a nasty pile of poo that crashes all the time, and looks/works like the retarded uncle it really is.

      1. Duncan Hothersall


        I was actually reacting more to the notion that this guy sees Linux devices as elbowing out MS, when as far as I can see MS is hardly on the radar. Apple's OS, Android, Symbian and the Blackberry OS are all in the game, but Windows for Phones or whatever it's called? Nah.

    2. Anonymous Coward


      You must be one of those finance industry execs that just destroyed the world's economy because of your inability to predict the future accurately!

      You don't go down while travelling in the direction of up.

      1. Steve X

        Immelmann turn?

        > You don't go down while travelling in the direction of up.

        Oh, but you can, easily. Ask BP...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It pretty much is

      ..and on smaller device, making the on-screen buttons bigger than you thought you needed to. Both of these are secret suace that makes people love iphones.

    4. Daniel B.

      Windows has never been the big competitor.

      Symbian has the top dog status.

      BB OS has the second place, and outside the US it is gaining a lot. I've noticed an upsurge of people toting BlackBerries in the last 6 months, makes me wonder if there is some kind of offering for these phones.

      Hell, PALM OS is still a worthy contender, with a couple of users that have stuck to their Treos. In fact, I think the Treo sales went down when they started coming with WinMo.

      So Linux-based mobile OSen are taking the battle with all of these; though this guy is spot on with the main argument: "awesome UI" is everything. Hell, some people jumped to Linux after the Beryl demos started showing up in YouTube; they still thought it was something hard to learn, but DAMN if they weren't going to have that badass 3D desktop on their PCs!!!

    5. henrydddd

      Apple is fated to go away

      What is going to make the Apple products (indeed all smart phones and ipad lookalikes) is that these products have a tiny weeny screen and cheap transistor radio speakers. Sure you can dock them, but the real future is having a 50 inch plasma screen tv, a good sound system with the pc as the center of the home entertainment system (like I have). I have over a terabyte of storage, internet access, and my content is not controlled by Apple.I know people with Iphones who are using them less and less because it is not much fun watching a movie on a tiny screen. Smart phones are here to stay, but so is the pc.

    6. westlake

      One of these things is not like the other

      >>Apple are going a step further and trying to control the content. I think Apple will go down quicker than Sun.>>

      Sun was never a player in the consumer market.

      Apple has been there for over thirty years - and its recipe for success is a product that reflects - or defines - an upscale urban lifestyle.

      Through the tight integration of hardware, software, style and design.

      Your iApp isn't rejected on moral grounds - but demographic. Too adolescent. Too down-market.

      1. Graham Dawson

        A N Other Title

        "Your iApp isn't rejected on moral grounds - but demographic. Too adolescent. Too down-market."

        Unlike all those fart apps?

      2. Doug Glass


        The major ingredient in their recipe for success was Microsoft giving them $5,000,000 to keep from going tits up as the Brits are known to say. Without that $$$ all the rest is/was a moot point,

        1. Anonymous Coward

          Every single time...

          You do know that Apple effectively did the same for Microsoft in the early days, don't you? Their decision to use to use Bill and Paul for the BASIC interpreter in the Apple II saved Microsoft from insolvency in late 1977. "Without that $$$ all the rest is/was a moot point..."

    7. Doug Glass

      Naver Happen

      Microsoft will come across with another $5,000,000 ($10,000,000???) to keep Apple afloat. Can't have MS made to be a "monopolistic" entity by any hand other than its own.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    No shit, how long did it take them to realise that then?

  6. M Gale

    This is one reason...

    ..that I'm doing the degree I'm doing (check my posting history, it's in my last post). No point in making the best application in the world if it looks like shit and is a dog to use.

    Basically, I'm putting my money (and four years of my life) where my mouth is. We'll see if it pays off.

  7. Brian 62


    Wow, way to state the obvious. Did we really need a "luminary" to explain to us that Windows Mobile is not a viable competitor anymore? Was it ever, really?

    1. Doug Glass

      Yeah ...

      ... really.

    2. Doug Glass



      1. M Gale

        You obviously don't..

        ..flying or otherwise.

        you can also get the past tense of same. Not that you'll ever get one.

  8. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

    Geniuses, the lot of them!!!

    "Zemlin warned open sourcers their software needs to out-Apple Apple on design and functionality, and they can't bury themselves in the cryptic commands and poor user interfaces that typified Linux since it exploded in the 1990s."

    Christ, 15 years down the road and they've has only just noticed? No wonder Linux has made zero inroads on the MS/Apple desktop monopolies.

  9. Sean Timarco Baggaley

    So that's two, then.

    Canonical's Shuttleworth was saying similar things not so long ago.

    It's about damned time, frankly. It's only taken them about 19 years to realise that there's no point creating good technology if you need a Ph.D. in Pure & Applied Cryptic Control Design just to understand its user interface, let alone master it.

    That said, good UI design is *hard*—even Apple have dropped a few clangers—so it'll be interesting to see how this pans out.

    1. Doug Glass

      Better ...

      ... learn how to do successful marketing too.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        Yes Doug...

        if they want to appeal to the mass consumer market, then marketing is a useful and powerful tool. Hell, they need to do that to appeal to business too.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Has to be linux.

    Winmo is an "Also ran." the windows mentality is just wrong on a finger touch interface, and too many things in the background to go wrong. It is Windows which means windows developers and development logic. All the press in winmo7 points to the same things reoccuring. (We can't do it, copy them)

    Linux needs to do "apps." Not ports of linux made into "apps." Most crap I have on my N900 are ports from the same places I get my ubuntu crap from. Same games in some instances. no changes.

    "Ooooh a Quake port that doesn't work without massive effort, ooohhhh a Sega emulator..... that doesn't work without you first downloading tons of roms and a hack from some dodgy site etc etc." Not the same thing as an app store with one download and play.

    Symbian is dead, only nokia use it and no one cares what nokia do, yeah they produce more phones for africa but they don't do smartphones as they don't undertand phone basics (people text, people send photo's, people like to know missed calls, people like to have it out the box, not spend three yeards downloaing 14 apps to get the basics. As well as their phone users, you have to hold the phone so the headphones stabbing you in the palm is not a good idea for a firm grip. For linux to grow it needs to be cross manufacturer. (Ideally not related to Nokia)

    Meego is ruddy appalling, as is Maemo. Not because it is linux or because it is new. But because Nokia give it lip service. Google and Apple support their offspring, Nokia take your money and leave the community of part timers and volunteers to steer the software to anything remotely functional. N900 being the case in point which won't get a finished Maemo or Meego. And the bug list is twice the length of your arm and counting.

    Android led the way now we need others to follow, if it is to be Meego then somebody please remove it from Nokia's incapable hands and put it into someone elses.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down


      Looks like you picked the wrong week to give up smoking...

    2. Rob Crawford

      What in the name of god are you talking about?

      Nokia phone check list

      Makes & receives calls : Yes (considerably better than a fruit derived products)

      Send & receive texts : Yes

      Missed calls Yes

      Picture messaging : Yes (unlike some previous fruit based products)

      Headphones stab you in the hand : FFS try shaving your palms and using your phone properly

      So far so delusional

      Nokia = phones for Africa, let me guess Europe is a small island just off the Eastern coast of the USA in your atlas.

      Obviously you aspire to be a resident of Bumhole TX

      OK so Symbian isn't pretty it works and for people who require a phone to do phone type things it's a good choice.

      Yeah my personal phone is an Android device but there is some vanity involved. For those times when I am working or away from home I have a pair of nokias because of battery life and reliability.

      Nokias aren't conversation pieces they're simply phones

      1. Cameron Colley

        @Rob Crawford


        My E71 does everything I need it to (and most things that the Jesus Phone and Android ones do) -- and it has about twice the battery life.

        Don't get me wrong, Symbian is of course clunky and the screen doesn't look as flashy because it has a hardware keyboard -- but for email and internet it's great and it will multi-task so I can leave my FTP client or puTTY and web browser open and just switch between the two to test updates (for example).

        Yes, the iPhone has a flashy interface that is, I'm sure, easy to use -- but as tools go it's not the only choice.

    3. ScioScio

      Allow me to retort...

      MeeGo is fully open source (unlike Android), anyone can use it anyway they want so don't worry about Nokia (and Intel for that matter). It is *cross-manufacturer* as you say.

      "Meego is ruddy appalling", how do you know? No one has even seen it running on a smartphone!

      Maemo (and I am sure Meego) can use the Ovi app store, it's growing fast and already has some good stuff on there. You write apps using the open source QT framework. Intel will have an app store as well, I am not sure about the cross compatibility between phones and atom tablets though.

      Your criticisms of Symbian don't make any sense, they might if it is Maemo you are talking about instead though.

      Even then the criticism is invalid, N900 is a mobile linux computer, number 4 in a series of 5. It's not a phone, it just has some extra phone features because they were "low hanging fruit". If you bought one because you wanted a smart phone then that was a pretty dumb move eh?

      Also, it doesn't take much for a phone to be smart, basically everything is a smartphone now an it is a useless distinction but I suspect you have created your own wee definition by the way you use the word.

      I can do that too, for example, If I were to define a smartphone as a phone that is genuinely able to do two things at once, then neither Apple or Android have produced a single one yet.

    4. Citizen Kaned


      sorry mate but we have all moved over to nokia e72s here at work. unfortunately we could get iphones on our contracts.

      all our HTC winmo devices went back as they were unreliable and generally flakey, not to mention piss poor battery and really touch is crap unless you want to play with silly little apps on it. everyone loved the touch at the start, but after a few days we all hated it.

      our nokias can send & receive texts, and make calls a damn site quicker than any iphone ive seen and definately quicker than the android phones ive seen.

      and upto 5 days battery.... dream of that on a winmo, android or iPhoney

      all i want to do on a phone is text, read/send emails and make calls. anything else is secondary. the nokias do this a hell of a lot quicker and easier than any touch screen ive seen or used. and that includes the iphoney too.

      we are all surprised how good these have been.

      btw - looked at blackberry too but needing exchange integrating i really wasnt happy with the piss poor server software you need (seriously, its the worst professional software ive seen in YEARS!)

      1. The Other Steve

        No, no, allow me

        "I can do that too, for example, If I were to define a smartphone as a phone that is genuinely able to do two things at once, then neither Apple or Android have produced a single one yet."

        That's a pretty epic fail, even for a reg commentard. For starters, how do you think you can listen to your music while browsing the web on both OSes ? See that ? Two things at once. And what's happening in the OS while your doing that ? There are sure as fuck more than two concurrent processes running, including the ones that handle voice calls and SMS, for instance. So we're already way over "genuinely do two things at once" before we even do anything interesting.

        What you think you mean is "able to run more than one app and have apps continue to execute in the background", but again, that's a fail. Both OSes could do this, but they don't. They constrain multitasking to preserve battery life.

        Android, using the concept of a 'service', allows you to do as much in the background as you like [0]. Up until the more recent versions, iPhoneOS didn't allow third parties to do this sort of thing, now it does. iOS 4 offers it in a variety of different ways, all of which are more constrained than the Android model, and the misuse of which is going to be the next big story in App Store bans.

        Regardless, your assertion that neither OS is 'genuinely able to do two things at once' is wrong at least twice for each platform. It would still be wrong, in fact, if you were cleverer than you look and were referring to the fact that a CPU can only execute one instruction at a time, because mobile phone processors rarely have a single core.

        No, no, don't thank me, the fact that you no possess a clue is my reward.


      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Really really ....

        I've tried all manner of smartphones (testing/developing mobile software has never been so much fun)

        But when it came to choosing a phone to actually carry about with me ... the e71 wins.

        I'm not sure if it's the screen itself - or the way these things love to be played with. But no other touchscreen lasted much more than 10 hours before complaining.

        Nokias have many many faults. Many irritations. But they do all the fundamental things boringly well.

    5. Neil 7

      @Has to be linux.

      > Android led the way now we need others to follow, if it is to be Meego

      > then somebody please remove it from Nokia's incapable hands

      > and put it into someone elses.

      Your wish has already been granted.

      Nokia doesn't own MeeGo, nor does Intel own MeeGo - the OS has been given to the Linux Foundation, they own it and coordinate its development.

      Nokia and Intel are simply the two most prominent organisations working with the Linux Foundation to help create MeeGo on various platforms and architectures (Intel on x86 and netbooks/tablets, Nokia on ARM and handheld devices).

      Fundamentally the OS will be the same across all devices and architectures, the biggest differences will be the user interfaces/user experience (or UX in MeeGo parlance). Any other organisation can come along and create their own UX on their own hardware, using the common/standard MeeGo OS.

      If MeeGo fails in any particular category it will fail due to the UX - precisely the point Zemlin is making. Who does Zemlin work for? Linux Foundation...

  11. A. H. O. Thabeth
    IT Angle

    This is what we tend to forget

    Apple is not a "magic" company, Apple's A4 processor is not significantly better than any other companies' processor, etc.

    The significantly above average IT literate readers of The Register know this; but what we forget is that Apple gets the little things right. The "responsive as an iPhone" comment from Anonymous Coward @ 10th June 2010 13:16 GMT is a good example of this.

    This is what matters to the 90% of the population, who are technologically illiterate. In the Jim Zemlin article, , he said

    "... Providing a good user experience isn't paramount under the white lights of the data center.

    In consumer electronics, it's a different story."

    The average reader of The Register can probably jail-break an iPhone if he or she wished to do so, but the bulk of the population does not know what jail-breaking is and probably don't care.

  12. petur
    Thumb Down


    AC: What did you expect, Meego is at version 1.00, the main focus being the ground levels, not GUI or apps...

  13. Tom 7 Silver badge

    @Zemlin gets it

    user experience is good but somewhere along the road productivity and functionality have to come into it. The pub is a much better user experience than the office but doesn't have a positive effect on productivity. iBollocks slow down the user and all those in the vicinity who are shown how cool it is to do something either pointless or bank account draining. And it seemingly keeps half the fucking FLOSS* community chasing the same pointless and soon to be boring user experience.

    Me - I'm in the pub - its cheaper and at least I'll have a hangover to show for it while the world queues up for iGlisterII.

    *sounds like something that comes off sheep too!

  14. Connor
    Gates Horns

    Back in the day...

    I used a Windows Mobile phone nearly ten years ago, they were great, HTML enabled browser with zoom, Outlook based email application, you could install your own apps. But they just didn't get any better, typical MS, no competition made them stagnate, and I always felt that Microsoft didn't really fully support the platform.

    I switched to Blackberry after a few years (I wished there were a Linux phone back then, but there wasn't), and haven't looked back, Windows Mobile just never really got started. I'd love a Linux phone, but I can't see it working.

  15. Maliciously Crafted Packet

    Not in hope in hell...

    its just not in their DNA. Linux just doesn't allow friendly UIs. Not because it can't but because of too many attitude problems amongst the developer community.

    As an example just took at the state of open source content management systems. Developers throwing toys out of prams resulting in the birth of yet another CMS. All poorly supported, all incomprehensible and difficult even for experienced web developers to get their head around. And they want to enter the consumer space? Forget it.

    Gemma and Joe public are not going to -read the fucking manual- for their new linux android tablet netbook phone I can guarantee that. They will want to install apps, games, video-chat, email, web-surf and consume media by pressing one or at the most two buttons. Otherwise it will end up on eBay and they will buy another iPhone.

  16. Richard 120
    Jobs Horns


    Where's the competition?

    Apple will just take anything decent open source, slap a shiny GUI on it and pass it off as their own, the credit only needs to be in the small print after all.

    That's not competition, that's parasitic, unless of course there's some feedback resulting in a symbiosis, I doubt it though, not profitable to just give things away.

    1. Anonymous Bastard
      Thumb Up


      +1 for your interpretation of open source CMS. That's right on the money.

      -1 for dismissing all linux design. Ubuntu has shown it's possible even if gnome is too much like the competition.

      (By way of comparison here is a summary of installing a new OS...

      Windows: I'm going to need a graphics driver, bugger the CD is scratched, why is the first search hit always spam, god this website is so slow, no I don't want to fill in a questionnaire, no I don't want to register first, what's with all these adverts I can't see where to click, yes I want to trust the download, yes I want to run the download too ffs, I didn't ask for you to reboot you POS!

      Ubuntu: What's that skippy? You already have nvidia drivers? Oh look it's working.)


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