My buddy Steven Vaughan-Nichols had a very interesting column up recently about the development of multi-user support on Android as a possible precursor to a desktop version.
I strongly suspect we’ll see multi-user support introduced in Android 5. Experts expect the new Android to arrive in 2012′s 4th quarter. I expect Android 5 to show up on new Android handsets and tablets. I also expect Google to backport it to its wildly popular Nexus 7 tablet.
That will be great for users who share tablets, but what I really wonder if Google will decide to finally offer an Android desktop offering of its own. In particular, I wonder if Google will at long last combine its Chrome OS, which is just the Chrome browser running on a thin-layer of Linux, with Android for a new desktop operating system.
Think about it. Chrome now runs on Android. I like Chromebooks, but for every Chrome OS user there’s already hundreds of Android users. At the same time, Microsoft is fumbling its Windows 8 introduction, if ever there was a time for Google to introduce an Android desktop, this is the time.
I know that many people don’t consider Android to be “pure” Linux in the way that they might consider distributions like Linux Mint, Ubuntu, etc. but the possibility is quite intriguing.
There are millions and millions of people using Android on their smartphones, and even some that are using it on tablets. What would happen if there was a version of Android released for the desktop?
Windows 8: Microsoft’s Waterloo on the Desktop?
The desktop version of Windows 8 has received some…er…strong responses from those who have used it in beta. Many people find the Metro interface on the desktop to be a pernicious pain in the ass, and think it might be one of Microsoft’s biggest mistakes yet. Some are saying that it’s even worse than Windows Vista, while others are vowing to stay with Windows 7 for as long as they can.
I see very little positive commentary about Windows 8 on the desktop. I’ve used it myself and I really hated Metro. I was shocked that Microsoft would try to glom a tablet interface onto its desktop operating system. I can understand careful integration between the two, the way that Apple has been doing it with iOS and OS X, but not the bizarre way Windows 8 has been set up.
Windows 8 could open up a huge opportunity for Google and Android.
Google’s Patent Hints at Desktop Android
An intriguing clue to Google’s future plans was discovered by the Patently Apple site.
A recent patent filing by Google surprisingly indicates that they’re seriously eying the desktop and notebook markets for Android. Interestingly, the patent seems to focus on similar capabilities now found in Apple’s Multi-Touch Trackpad and Magic Trackpad. In many ways that’s understandable considering that Google is working on the Android for x86 project along with a serious list of other Intel-Android related projects. Android is headed for the desktop and today’s report lays out Google’s specific work on trackpad operations corresponding to touchscreen events.
This patent filing indicates serious interest on Google’s part for taking on Microsoft head to head on the desktop.
What an absolute disaster it would be for Microsoft if Google releases a version of Android for PCs. Microsoft is already in hot water with many of its business partners because of its Surface tablet initiative. Companies like Acer are not happy that Microsoft might be directly competing with them in the tablet space:
Speaking to the Financial Times, JT Wang said “We have said [to Microsoft] think it over. Think twice. It will create a huge negative impact for the ecosystem and other brands may take a negative reaction. It is not something you are good at so please think twice.”
Campbell Kan, Acer’s president for personal computer global operations, also told the FT that the Taiwanese company was “debating internally” how to respond to the new Surface tablet and considering what further challenges Microsft might pose. “If Microsoft … is going to do hardware business, what should we do? Should we still rely on Microsoft, or should we find other alternatives?,” Mr Kan said.
Android on the PC offers them a real alternative to Windows. Many of Microsoft’s partners might at least consider releasing Android based PCs. Why not? If Microsoft is going to compete with them in the hardware space, then it makes sense for them to have an alternative operating system with a potential user base of millions of people.
What About Other Distros?
It seems clear that Android on the PC could be a huge punch in the face for Microsoft, but what about existing Linux distributions? How would Android affect Ubuntu, Linux Mint and the other distros we’ve all come to know and love? While I’d like to think that Android for the PC would be a positive thing for Linux overall, I suppose it would depend on how Google implemented it.
If Google makes Android somewhat akin to Apple’s “walled garden” situation with OS X then I don’t think that other Linux distributions have much to worry about. Linux users tend to want freedom to install software from any source, and they want direct control over that software. A “walled garden” version of Android would draw immediate suspicion and disgust from many Linux users.
On the other hand, if Google leaves Android open enough then I think it could be seriously considered by some current Linux users. Would we see a big migration away from Linux Mint, Ubuntu and other distributions? Probably not initially, but if Android was good enough then I think it has the potential to eclipse the other distros as time goes by and more people become aware of it.
Will Android Survive Apple’s Legal Onslaught?
Apple and Google are locked in mortal legal combat these days over Android. Apple sees it as theft of its intellectual property, and it’s pursuing every legal means at its disposal to destroy Android. This quote from the late Steve Jobs summed up Apple’s perspective on Android:
“I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple’s $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong. I’m going to destroy Android, because it’s a stolen product. I’m willing to go thermonuclear war on this.”
So Apple is clearly not fooling around. It’s not possible to know what will be the ultimate effect (if any) on Android until all of the litigation has happened. But the legal battles do make me wonder if Google won’t run into similar roadblocks on the desktop, especially if desktop Android bears *any* resemblance to eitheriOS or OS X.
Apple is not going to stop or slow down in the court room. So we’ll have to wait and see if Android survives over the long haul.
The possibility of Android on the desktop is something worth noting. I love the idea of more desktop competition, it forces developers to make things better or lose market share to competitors.
Google also already has desktop experience with its Chrome OS, though Chrome OS has not taken off in the way that Android might if it’s released for PCs. I’m sure though that Google will be leveraging their Chrome OS experiences for a desktop version of Android.
Android currently has millions and millions of users in the smartphone and tablet space. If even half of them switched to it on the desktop, Microsoft could have a gigantic disaster on its hands as millions of users defect from Windows en masse.
I sure wouldn’t want to own any Microsoft stock if that happens. Ouch!
What’s your take on this? Will we ever see Android released for the desktop? Tell me in the comments below.