Why Google and Ubuntu don't say “Linux”

Why Google and Ubuntu don't say “Linux”

Summary: Some people are complaining that neither Google nor Ubuntu refer to their operating systems as Linux, here's why they don't use the "L" word.


You may see Linux, as Tux, superhero, but that's not how most people see Linux.

The most popular  mobile operating system is Android. One of the most popular non-Windows operating systems is Canonical's Ubuntu. And, Google's is really pushing its Chrome OS-powered Chromebooks in the retail market. What does all this have in common? Each operating system is based on Linux and neither Google nor Canonical is mentioning that fact.

That has some Linux fans upset. I've been getting mail from users who are ticked off that Linux isn't getting mentioned more. It bugs me a bit too, but you know what? I understand exactly why Google and Canonical are doing this.

Think about it. If you're a Linux user, what do you think of when you hear “Linux.” You think about stability, security, open-source, flexibility, power, and control. You probably also think about Tux, the Linux penguin.

But, now what do the 95% plus of the population who don't use Linux directly think about it when they hear “Linux.” They think, hard-to-use, command-line, something that only a techie geek—and I don't mean that in a fun Big Bang Theory kind of way—could use, never mind enjoy using.

Just read the trolls that infect my comment sections. They recycle the same old anti-Linux FUD about hard it is to use and how there are no applications for it constantly.  Never mind the reality that desktop Linux is easy to use and there's nothing that 99% of users can't do on Linux that they can do on Windows or Mac OS X.

You see this isn't about reality. It's about perception. Canonical and Google rather than try to fight how Linux is seen by most people and the Microsoft trolls who do their best to keep the Linux lies alive, have chosen to dodge the Linux brand issue entirely.

Hence, Google emphasizes Android and Chrome OS and Canonical talks about Ubuntu. They're doing this because this works. By doing this, they avoid all the negative FUD that Microsoft fans and trolls keep throwing at Linux and they get to set the conversation. My wife, Clara Boza, a branding expert and former CMO, tells me that this is smart marketing and that it works. Given Android's success and that Chrome OS and Ubuntu seem to be among the most popular Linux distributions, I think she's right.

For those of who are Linux fans, it's annoying. We should keep in mind though that the end goal is getting Linux into the hands of users. If they happen to call it Android, Chrome OS, or Ubuntu is that really such a bad thing? I don't think so.

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Topics: Linux, Google, Software, Ubuntu

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  • There is one simple answer...

    "Linux" is only the foundation upon which these operating systems (especially Android) run. What makes them successful really has very little to do with Linux. Ditto for Mac OS X / FreeBSD.

    What makes my office functional is more than the concrete poured under the floor and the girders holding up the ceiling, yet those Linux fanatics that want to make a stink about "Android is Linux" or "Ubuntu is Linux" or even "my Blu-Ray player is Linux" are akin to the engineers who will talk for hours about how my building isn't going to collapse because of the quality of these two components.

    Most of the people who work here, though, are more concerned about whether the temperature and furniture is comfortable, and how the view is out the window. Honestly, they just don't care about the stuff that is rightly taken for granted.
    • "something is Linux"

      Is usually used to indicated that whoever engineered the "something" decided to use Open Source UNIX, instead of (say) Windows for the task. This is the essence of such arguments.

      Relating that to your office, all is fine to enjoy the view and the ambient temperature, but you don't want the concrete that was used to be poor quality and break from time to time, right?
      • The "essence" of such arguments...

        "Is usually used to indicated that whoever engineered the "something" decided to use Open Source UNIX, instead of (say) Windows for the task. This is the essence of such arguments."

        No... the essence of such arguments is that the framework and the finished product are one and the same thing (or to re-use my office tower analogy - concrete and metal make the office - everything else is just window dressing).

        Steven (and many other Linux fanatics) like to point to the popularity of Android, iOS, Blu-Ray players, Google, Facebook and a million other things that are "based" on Linux to point to Linux's success as an operating system. The reality is, the "essence" of all these products is based on far more than Linux (and really, Linux plays a very, very small role in most of these products). In these arguments, credit is being denied to those who deserve it.

        "Relating that to your office, all is fine to enjoy the view and the ambient temperature, but you don't want the concrete that was used to be poor quality and break from time to time, right?"

        Well of course not - and luckily the vast majority of offices don't have that problem. In the end, though, it is more than the concrete and steel that makes and office usable, just like there is much MUCH more than Linux that makes Android and such usable.
        • Different outcome

          While we seem to agree with you that "linux" is one of the components that makes those successful systems, we sort of disagree on the fact that those systems are successful at least in part, because they are based on Open Source UNIX.

          Note, I did say Open Source UNIX and not Linux. This is important distinction, because in fact "Linux" is defined to be just the kernel (as opposed to BSD, where both the kernel and userland are defined) -- but an OS takes much more than the kernel.

          There is great confusion with naming both the kernel and the system Linux, because the system may be packaged differently and thus behave differently. Very much like you could use the same concrete material and build ether successful or unsuccessful building.
          The same could be said for the unfortunate overloading of "Windows" by Microsoft.

          As for being able to build the floors with any kind of foundation. This is ok. It happens all over the world. There are different customs and build codes and the most important fact is that for some materials are more suited than others at certain location.
          It is also important to consider how maintenance intensive the foundation is. The law may force you to have the building checked and fixed at regular intervals: but with one type of concrete/steel this might require frequent repairs, while another might require less effort and be cheaper in the end. The same, as OS foundations are different.
          • Linux vs. "Open Source Unix"

            "Note, I did say Open Source UNIX and not Linux. This is important distinction, because in fact "Linux" is defined to be just the kernel (as opposed to BSD, where both the kernel and userland are defined) -- but an OS takes much more than the kernel."

            While you're being all technical and talking about "distinctions", make sure you understand that there are some very fundamental reasons why these distinctions are being made. Also make sure you understand what the real distinctions are here - Linux is not Unix, it is not "Open Source" Unix, and whether it is a kernel or an OS, it is not any part of Unix.

            FreeBSD, Mach, Darwin - these are Open Source Unix systems. Linux is an open source Unix clone. It's a small distinction, but a very important one, especially to the authors (and to Linus himself).
          • Re:

            See, you have your UNIX and your Unix.

            No, Linux can never be UNIX. And neither can FreeBSD. That is a registered trademark that with some minimal POSIX compliance and a fee you can stamp on just about anything.

            Unix on the other hand, is a design philosophy and a culture. And Linux has a lot of that in it.
        • Re:

          iOS isn't based on Linux at all.

          And it is quite clear that you have never designed or implemented anything in a computing environment. While it is true, the kernel, like the skeletal structure of a building, is often not even a passing though of most people that use either an electronic device or a building; they are very integral parts of the big picture.

          I'm sure you can figure out how to look up what exactly a kernel does, but suffice it to say; remove the Linux kernel from many of these products and you end up not having a product. In a lot of these devices you can't simply drop a FreeBSD kernel or a Hurd kernel or a Darwin kernel or a Haiku kernel, or some other open source kernel in Linux's place, they just don't have the facilities that Linux does mainly because of just how much is available to be built into it.
      • If you consider Linux as Kernel

        Then even Windows Kernel does't break time to time. Nothing is wrong with Windows, but the fact that they tried to make NT (based on VMS) for friendly in the pre-Internet boom. That was a mistake, which they recovered post XP SP6. Now Windows is as stable and secure as Linux or any other OS, but still remains the target (90% users, with large portion of common users) because of its market share and ROI. If you think Windows is standing still since 95 or ME then you better come out your burrough and do some objective analysis.
        • Windows NT

          In fact, Windows NT was great kernel to base your OS on. It needed some tweaks, but at the time Microsoft acquired it it already had POSIX compliance.

          What Microsoft should have done is the same thing, that Apple did when migrating from MacOS to OS X. In fact, Microsoft had the chance to do that before Apple, but they missed it. They took their existing and successful API and ported it to UNIX. It is the Apple's API that developers use to write code for OS X, not UNIX's. Apple could easily switch to any other kernel without much hassle, although there are great benefits from using an Open Source UNIX as the base platform on which to build.

          Microsoft instead took Windows NT and merged it with their win32 runtime, that had evolved from their original "GUI on top of DOS" concept. In effect, Microsoft ruined NT's most important features, including disabling most of the security stuff. In recent Windows version one could enable those selectively, but .. that's not for the normal user.
          Windows is targeted not only for the huge installed base, but because it is extremely easy to penetrate. Part of this has to do with some "innovation" Microsoft has done, related to signed code execution -- that in essence lets your computer run any "Microsoft signed" program without informing you, or letting you stop it. Things are so for many reasons, including Microsoft's experiments with "anti-piracy". But, in the end, it so happens that malware authors are able to sing their malware with Microsoft's keys and.. you have the easiest penetration vector, ever!

          I had very high hopes for WinRT -- that finally Microsoft are going to have an OS/kernel that could be more secure and easier to code for/administer/use.. but so far, it seems they have decided to repeat the errors they made when NT was assimilated.
          • Windows NT (What, you mean VMS NT?)

            @danbi : 100% correct! Had they listened to Dave Cutler back when he was designing Windows NT (AKA VMS NT) they might have had a chance to make something secure. However, Bill was not going to have that, now was he :).

            Now, its too late for Microsoft to make anything secure - there is too much money in the security industry for them to actually make something as secure as Linux.

            Its sort of like the oil industry thwarting any chance of green cars - they could have had electric or alternative fuels back in the 60s-70s but lobbyists would not have it because there is too much money in oil.

            Same with the computer industry - MS would not dare displace the security industry by making something secure because they would be displacing a multi-billion dollar industry.

            I, personally, don't want Linux at the top. I quite like being in the elite! Think about it - its doesn't take many brains to set up a Windows based enterprise. Heck, if you can manipulate a mouse and click a check box and press NEXT, you can have your own enterprise set up in no time - cha'ching - money in your pocket. Too many brainless Windows admins out there because Microsoft made it too easy to use.

            Linux, OTOH, takes brains to use and get working. The computer industry made people lazy, Microsoft made then illiterate - Linux is the only chance/hope for future, competent Computer administrators that have 1/2 a brain!
          • Reason for the success of Microsoft?

            One expert programmer ( being in that business since 1970's) once mentioned to me that the secret of the success of Microsoft is based on their very bad software. He tended to believe that the worse and more insecure software you do, the more successful it will be among folk.

            There might be some truth: Google opened the gates for stupid Windows users to install whatever apps for their Android devices and now we have first Lin... upps Android botnet. Windows-people, they don't want secure and stable OS. They want to install whatever crap to their devices. That's it.
          • So ease

            of use is a bad thing? It certainly saves a lot of time, which in an enterprise saves money.
            Sam Wagner
        • LOL Windows as stable as Linux?

          "Now Windows is as stable and secure as Linux or any other OS"

          Really? Only last year the London Stock Exchange gave up on the Windows based stock trading system they had been trying top develop with direct assistance at the highest level from Microsoft for a number of years. It was a failure because it kept crashing. Doesn't that sound familiar? Guess what they switched to? Yes Linux.
          • Yep, and that worked out really well for them, didn't it?


            Of course, as argued many times by Steven J himself - it's not the operating system's fault, unless that operating system is Windows, right?
    • I don't use Linux

      I use KDE
      tracy anne
    • OS taken for granted ?

      Try putting POWERED BY MICROSOFT on the side of a JET LINER and see how many passengers line up.
      • Powered by Microsuck?

        No way I would trust my life to that plane. I don't fly anyway, but that would cement my argument. All the zero-day exploits and security holes (like those STILL present in XP, the "battle-hardened warhorse"), and poorly written code, backwards-compatible to hardware no one uses today. No thank you, it's safer to hitch hike.
  • Linux is not an OS

    Strictly speaking, Linux is not an OS. Linux is the OS kernel.
    There are a number of "Linux distributions", that are named so because of the common use of the Linux kernel. Otherwise, those distributions are quite different, with (often) different APIs etc.
    In the more distant past, there were Linux distributions that were really confusing mix of code, taken from various places and glued together. Worse than Windows. Even if things improved a lot in the past decade, some people do have memory of these times.

    Compare this with the BSD UNIX variations. All of them are variations of the original BSD software and include both a BSD kernel and BSD userland with more or less stable API. You don't get things like FreeBSD kernel with OpenBSD userland. (but, strangely enough you get FreeBSD kernel with some userland and it gets called "Linux")
    All current BSD UNIX platforms have more or less unified system architecture.

    All of these operating systems use more or less compatible APIs, especially the higher level UI APIs that are largely OS-agnostic, such as QT, KDE, GNOME etc. Therefore, it is appropriate to talk about "Open Source UNIX" instead of "Linux". This will help the "Linux" perception tremendously.
    • Seriously?


      This is exactly the nonsense that casual computer users DON'T WANT TO HEAR. At all. Ever.

      If Linux in 2012 is still about whether KDE or Gnome is better, then good luck ever getting "Linux" associated with any product that's intended for the general public. It's pure eye-glazing marketing poison.
      • Oh man...

        If we could all the acronyms that Microsoft "invented" that would make any sane person throw their "PC" out of the Window.. according to your thinking. Are they doing it? If not, why not?

        Nobody cares what their OS is called or what the various APIs are called. All people care is whether they can do their job with the computer. They don't even care if the word-processing application they use is called Microsoft Word, or LibreOffice, or OpenOffice.

        That is for normal people. Your nick assumes you know something about IT so it is people like you who are supposed to know *all* about these things. Or, you prefer the Big Brother to tell you where to look at?