Android: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Android is everywhere. Really. It runs phones, tablets, and recently, I even saw it running on an iPhone. Just a few years ago, that would have thrilled me to no end. Truthfully, it still does, but I'm more skeptical now. See, two years ago, Linux was everywhere on Netbooks. I thought it was a big break—Linux finally hit the mainstream.

But, vendor customization and “dumbing down” made Linux look like an inconsistent kludge rather than a free and powerful choice. So far, Android looks fairly consistent across hardware. So far, many apps work, regardless of the Android version your device supports. Hopefully, vendors will see the mistakes made with Netbooks, and keep their “branding” to a minimum. There are many ways phone vendors and wireless carriers could mess up our world domination efforts. Again.

Dear Vendors, please don't try to sell more phones by adding proprietary software on top of Android. If you add software, contribute it back to the community. If you want to sell more phones, make better phones than your competition. (Please!)


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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Android works for me...

RogerS1981's picture

I love my Android. I use it for pretty much everything now. Email, pics, facebook...I've even found a way to rig it up to my Harley-Davidson so I can use it as a turn-by-turn GPS. Can't beat it.

Average people need standard!

Andaluz's picture

Whatever opinion you have about standard, standard is really needed for the big mass. A lot of Linux users show off how they tweak their distro to do cool things, well I tell you this, NOT EVERYBODY USING LINUX IS A GEEK! So, if you want Linux be widespread to people all over the world, you need a good standard and fundamental stuff work out of the box.

You have to see the big picture, what do most average people like? Voicecall (Skype, because it's free), social networking (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter etc..., so a good webbrowser like Firefox), watching video and listening audio (should play all kind of DVD's, play flash video's, audio should work without configuring in ALSA or whatever driver).

So Skype, Flash (at the moment), audio en dvd should work with no problem at all. A good GUI for the desktop and not using the word Linux, than it will be a big success.

But if Skype doesn't work properly, Flash doesn't work properly, some dvd's can't be played, audiocard is not supported, than it won't succeed for the big mass. Cause, once again, the BIG MASS ARE NOT GEEKS like you. Who to blame for is another discussion, but that's the fact.

There will come a day that OS won't be important anymore, because everything works online through a browser. This also means that if videocard or audiocard manufactorer wants to sell a lot of their hardware, they have to provide drivers too.
So, bye bye M$, you're time is over. :)

Yeah, I see this as a

bodry's picture

Yeah, I see this as a problem. My friend has an Android and the manufacturers default web-browser blows. Not terribly surprising though, but something the average consumer probably would never realize. Just blame it on Android. One of the advantages of running your own hardware+software as Apple does, I guess.

Maybe if linux vendors could

Anonymous's picture

Maybe if linux vendors could come up with a standardized format, they wouldn't be the 3rd rate OS that they are.

Couldn't agree more!

Dmitriy's picture

Vendors are running afoul with placing their useless pieces of software to further clutter up the phones. I don't usually purchase vendor specific phones but made a rare exception (and a silly one) by switching from unlocked Nokia E-series to Blackberry Bold 9780. Big mistake.
What I found out was that Blackberry OS 6 would be so locked down by both, RIM and the carrier's crappy infusion that I could not even remove T-Mobile bookmarks because they are hard-coded into ROM, not mention install and run third party tools such as Gmail, etc.
The same applies across the board to all devices sold by the carriers in America. Lack of customisation and freedom to change stuff around the device (not exactly the case with Android) makes these devices dumb-down versions that are spoon fed to consumers.

Hi, this blog is very

sklep rowerowy's picture

Hi, this blog is very helphul.


AX11's picture

There is a giant lack of standards in Linux, this is obvious, and yes open source means you can do whatever you want.
Wrong, this is obviously nonsense and no, it's exactly the opposite. Although this is more or less a pointless troll posting, some clues:
Picasa is not a "standard". Nor is your scanner. Your wife might be your standard but she's probably not everyone's. The same applies to Microsoft Windows. It might work for you, but it is not even remotely reflecting any standard but Microsoft's own which is valid until the next version of MS-Office.
Open source lives by compliance to -open- standards. Otherwise something like Linux, containing compatible software written by thousands of authors would be simply impossible.


JA12's picture


As standards goes, you're wrong. Badly.

Since when has MS produced even half decent thing that follows real standards?

MS might be consistent with something but that has nothing to do with standardization.
And what they've been consistent with? Not following the standards to lock their users is their tradition, thats what! And forcing manufacturers to play along? Overloading US patent office with crap and threating everyone with those patents (except those with crapload of real patents)? Making everyone wait with zero-day vulnerabilities in their software and even missing their own schedule (patch tuesday)? Support? - I've worked a long time with their stupidly expensive development tools and server "solutions" and what comes to support, it's crap. Even with high paying customer. No, not customer, Microsoft partner, as a company. Individuals receive their sw support from OEM or dealer. And if not then it's going to cost them, a lot.

And since when there's been consistency in Windows btw? In GUI? Nope, unless being the same version for many years counts. I know, it's consistent about needing more and more computing recources without giving anything useful in return. And being expensive. Being restrictive. Eventually needing a reinstall (without other software, eventually is not that a long time). Networking is a mess (there is standard compatibility needed, they'll get there, someday).

Point given I hope, but..

JA12's picture

I forgot to mention that it's not that long ago when MS almost managed to corrupt the whole ISO with their OOXML to accomplish their interests. There's standards compatibility - Microsoft style - right there.

Yes, my previous post might show my frustration with Windows ecosystem. My actual work wasn't about operating systems or IT support in our company. My work was about machine vision engineering, solving industrial problems, etc. and yes, it's really frustrating to see all this crap limiting not just me and the company I was working, but the customers too. Those constant problems with Windows (xp, 2003), ms sql server, vpn connections, antivirus software, windows updates, AD, on and on, always something, made me do my real work in my spare time too to keep up.

Not everything failed constantly, though. That company (Microsoft partner) had one Debian server handling most critical operations (all backups, mail, important shares) and another one beside it syncronizing with the other. I wonder who fought to get those there. I even used the backup machine for work every time I could, and they were rock solid.

That's how I decided that I really need my main desktop at home to run GNU/Linux instead of Windows (which I thought I'd need because of work). Just to keep me sane. I've enjoyed computing ever since. And now looking back many years, it has been waaaay cheaper, too. GNU/Linux hw compatibility has been perfect for me. Not big issues from closed drivers either.
And should that day come I buy something that doesn't work, I correct my mistake and just throw that piece of hw (crap) in the garbage, and buy another one with big smile on my face. That could be whole computer and still be cheaper in the long run.

Linux & Android - A Need for Consistency

RcFliers's picture

I use Ubuntu 10.10 at home, and I like it, however I realize that is has lots of issues. There is a giant lack of standards in Linux, this is obvious, and yes open source means you can do whatever you want. What it really translates into is tons of wasted time and talent put into parallel efforts. Sure, Ubuntu is helping to focus some of the effort, but its still fragmented. At least with Windows there are standards, and continuity between releases. As my wife says "Windows isn't pretty but I can do everything I need to do, Ubuntu is flashy, but annoying as I can't upload videos to Picasa web, and I can't use our scanner without Virtual Box, and I can't etc. etc. etc."

I also use an Android phone, its an LG Ally, cheap 600mhz processor, runs Android 2.1 (with a rumored 2.2 update that Verizon is very hush hush about). I doubt the update will ever come, but I still like the phone. My biggest gripe is its slow, the user experiences is compromised because Google lets hardware manufactures put Android on pathetic hardware. Yes I have consumer choice, I could buy a more expensive Android, but my feeling is, I'll probably go get an Iphone when they hit the Verizon network, because I know it will provide the experience I want....

My experience has been

TheWall's picture

My experience has been diametrically opposed to yours. I've run several versions of Linux, from Slack 7.1 to Gentoo to Ubuntu 10.10, and I've run several iterations of Windows from 3.0 to Vista. What I've found in recent years is that Linux is quite stable and quite hardware agnostic by default. I will confess that I haven't been able to connect wirelessly to my Epson NX420 Stylus Scanner/Printer/Copier (for scanning; printing works fine), but that's the exception rather than the rule...and I haven't (yet) tried to connect via USB, but I fully expect that to work. OTOH, every time I buy a new piece of hardware for my wife's Windows machines, I end up loading drivers, removing bundled crapware that gets installed with the drivers, etc. And more than once, I've had a driver that simply wouldn't load on the Windows machine, even though it was listed as "compatible". Regarding Picasa Web, what problems does she have? I've used Picasa through my web browser, and I've used Google's Picasa software on my Ubuntu laptop, and it works just fine. Well, it worked just fine once I put it on a sufficiently fast machine; on my old single-core 1.5GHz IDE machine running a Knoppix hard-drive install of Debian Sid, Picasa was a real dog...but it worked. YMMV, of course, and if Windows suits your wife's needs, then more power to you. But for me, I'll take Ubuntu over Windows *any day*.

Not so different really....

RcFliers's picture

Yes, I've found generally that Linux is stable,driver support is okay, and Windows isn't perfect... but it seems more usable to my wife. It may be a bit of a perception issue, however she does have some valid arguments. The other day I went to play a DVD which I'd played before, and it wouldn't work. I spent 25 minutes tracking it down to a conflict with some video editing software I'd installed the day before, I was able to use VLC to get around this issue. All the while my wife is standing behind me saying if this was Windows the DVD would have just worked... The Picasa issue is this, Google makes it run using wine, but it doesn't allow you to upload videos to Picasa Web albums... And you can't upload videos from the web yet... We've found Picasa web albums to be the most cost effective way to share our photos with friends and family, so this has become a real issue for my wife. I'm very happy to use Linux, its free, it accomplishes most of everything I need. However, there are two many barriers for my wife, my mom and many others to just pick it up and use it. Granted they may need general guidance and help to use Windows or a Mac as well... Currently we only use Windows when we really need to and do it through a virtual box. I support 65 Windows machines at work, Active Directory and Group Policy are nice, but by the end of the day, I'm no fan of Windows.

Gotcha...I missed the part

TheWall's picture

Gotcha...I missed the part where you said "uploading *videos*". I've successfully uploaded photos in Picasa on a Linux box (didn't know it was running under Wine -- I'll have to look for that), but I haven't tried uploading videos.

Market Differentiation

John H.'s picture

It's how they differentiate themselves & confuse the customer. And they like confused customers. "Value Add" crap. They don't like standards in terms of interface because they each think theirs is the best (maybe...). But Android itself could circumvent that by creating apps that are better than those proprietary apps created by the carriers & vendors.

Apple does well by simplifying most used functions (dumbing down if you must), but allowing 3rd parties to submit to their scrutiny. It's not open, but you can program for them. All linux distros including mobile need to create versions of their distro that follows a human interface guidelines type deal, that results in all of the distros behaving consistantly. Simple stuff, but goes a long way in defining "What is Linux?" Consistent experience is key to people understanding it.

Android is a bit of a disappointment

metalx2000's picture

For me Android is a bit of a disappointment. I think it's great that it's Linux, and somewhat Open-Source. But, it's so Limited. Besides Google Maps and Google Goggles, it's really isn't that useful for anything but killing time. Which is why it's doing so well. People love useless apps.

I would be way more excited if Meego was to spread. And I think we will see more of Meego, just not anywhere near as much as Android. Meego (or the older Maemo which I have on my N900) can do everything my netbook can go. It is running Xorg. It gives you root privileges with out having to jailbreak it (and lets face it, if you don't have root privileges it's pretty much useless). I can program in any language I can already program on my desktop (BASH, Python, Pearl, etc...), it handles both Qt and GTK.

Why do we except these watered down distros (Android and iPhoneOS) on our phones and devices. There is no reason to not have all the power of our Desktop OSes.

I do think that Android will be around and continue to lead in this market. But, I also think it will have problems down the road. Unlike a stable distro such as Debian, the seem to let any crap software into the market place. Untested, and closed source with adware through out. It would not be hard to slip some malicious code in there. They need to put sticker rules on there market place. But, that would slow down it's growth.

Personally, I think they should have just used Debian with a touch friendly interface and harness the power of the thousands of program already available to Linux. Meego/Maemo is the closes thing we have to that. But, once again, people don't want a useful phone. They just want something to kill time.
Everything you ever need to know about Free Software.

Vendors breaking Android

Gene Liverman's picture

What I really hate is that to get a non-glitchy experience many people have to root their phones. I have no problem with vendors doing their things so long as it does not break the phone. For me, CyanogenMod has made all the difference in the world.

Gene Liverman is a Systems Administrator of *nix and VMware at a university.

Linux Popularity

joeliberty's picture

If it makes anyone feel comfortable I work in rural America for a phone company here in Iowa. I am seeing more and more people embrace Linux. There are so many brands of Linux it just takes educating people on their choices. More and more people are embracing it for its streamlined OS and ease of use. Ubuntu and Linux Mint are starting to really take off as well. Users have to promote its use and having a laptop in your vehicle is a good way to introduce people to it! My wife gets many compliments on her laptop that she has tricked out for her use! I would love to start a business installing Linux for residents and small business and then take some proceeds and donate to my favorite Linux project, but this rural area and health care is an issue for me! Cheers!


pavithran's picture

I would love to start a business installing Linux for residents and small business and then take some proceeds and donate to my favorite Linux project, but this rural area and health care is an issue for me! Cheers!

cool joeliberty , All the best with your venture . That's a nice business model which you are adopting . Let me know if you need any assistance , I have dealt with some naive and computer users installing redhat in those days , I guess its more easy for you :D

Most of the Android

Jake's picture

Most of the Android modifications I have seen already cheapen the Android experience. Motoblur, for instance, feels awful. Hopefully since the stock Android is so nice, few will feel the need to customize it too much. What I fear more is Android being installed poorly or where it doesn't belong. Some of the recent cheap tablets run Android so badly that I fear the platform will begin to get a bad name... even cheaper phones it doesn't work nice on. You can't doubt the awesomness of Android on a nicer phone like the Droid 2 I am using now... and it scale well, as is exemplified with my first model Barnes & Noble nook which beatifully adapted the software to the needs of an eReader. But a $200 netbook with a 300MHz processor? Not looking good right now.