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Intel: Commercial distributions will support Android, like Linux before it

Intel Internet of Things group vice president Joe Jensen has said that Android is following the path blazed by Linux, and commercial support will need to appear unless vendors plan to run their own Android OS teams.

As customers across Asia rush to use Google's Android mobile operating system in more and more devices, it looks to Joe Jensen, Intel vice president for its Internet of Things group, as though history is repeating itself with Android replicating the adoption pattern of its Linux predecessor.

"I lived through, in the telco days especially, Linux when it first emerged -- everybody was going to move to Linux, and it turned out they were going to Linux because it was free, and they all picked up a distribution and said: 'This is great. I'm going to stop paying for an OS, I'm going to have this free Linux'," Jensen told journalists at Computex 2015.

"It turned out that free Linux meant you had your own OS team that supports your own distribution. Most people have now matured, and they are paying for Red Hat or somebody for a managed distribution."

Jensen said the same forces are at play now, except that no entity has yet stepped up to offer commercial support.

"Google is not supporting distribution for non-handsets," he said. "And you see a lot of people across Asia jumping to Android, but they don't have a strategy to have their own OS team, and nobody is offering a commercial distribution for legacy Android."

While the Red Hats and Ubuntus of the Android ecosystem are yet to appear, Jensen said he expects that they will arrive, or vendors will return to what they were using before they hopped on the Android bandwagon.

"As it shakes out, somebody will start offering commercial distributions that are cost effective, or the OEMs are going to have their own OS team to manage the distribution, or they are going to go back to Linux."

With commercial devices inside enterprises typically receiving support for longer lengths of time than consumer items, the ability to keep a device running and keeping a version of Android that is many generations old secure is an issue that Jensen believes needs to be solved.

"The challenge is there's a tension in the market that as new things emerge in consumer [space]," he said. "A good example would be to go back in history -- computers were green screens, and then they had 256 colours, and then they had 16 million colours, and then you started to see 3D objects -- well there is really no need a 3D UI on a milling machine. But when the consumer expectation is that 3D is how the UI should look, and you are selling a $400 million milling machine, the percentage [of overall cost] to spend more to put 3D on the milling machine isn't that much, so the vendors end up following those consumer trends."

The choice that enterprise buyers face, Jensen said, is whether to go with the reputable incumbent with the old interface, or with an upstart vendor that can offer the latest and greatest user experience as the current standard and expectations for consumer devices drives ever-forward.

"We see all the time ... where the new entrants will jump on to a new thing, a new UI, a new technology, something that maybe isn't necessarily required, but it's a way to differentiate against an incumbent. In market after market after market, we see that kind of thing happening.

"If you are looking at telco gear that is buried in the closet, that's not the same dynamic, but when you are looking at edge devices where there are people interacting with them, there is always a lot of pressure to keep that current with whatever consumers are doing."

Disclosure: Chris Duckett travelled to Computex 2015 as a guest of Intel.