The Dark Horses

3/1/2013 2:36:41 PM

While the world focuses on Windows 8 and the ilk, here are some OSes that might just come up from the rear and surprise you. And how!

The world of technology is one of constant flux. Technology and its effects can be so unpredictable that the big surprise is that we are ever surprised at all. But it happens, and it will continue to. A number of interesting events lie ahead in the coming year and many of them have great potential to disrupt the world of technology in a good way.

Firefox OS

It was a dark time in 2011 when Google announced that Android 3.0 wouldn’t be open source; everyone felt like the open source world lost its biggest poster child. It’s all well now that Android is open source again but the lesson learned was that there needs to be an alternative that isn’t under the control of one company. Under these conditions Boot 2 Gecko was born, an open source, web standards-based operating system. The goal wasn’t just to have a web-based mobile OS, but also to develop the web standards needed to make such a device viable. The end result is a mobile OS and apps built entirely using HTML, CSS, JavaScript and running on a bare minimum browser instance.

Many a pundit have said that Firefox OS has no chance of competition against the slew of phones running Android and iOS.

Many a pundit have said that Firefox OS has no chance of competition against the slew of phones running Android and iOS.

Many a pundit have said that Firefox OS has no chance of competition against the slew of phones running Android and iOS. If you want to make money, you need to make a smartphone that can take on Android and iOS in the first world, but Mozilla, being non-profit, is in the unique position of not worrying about how much money it makes.

Mozilla knows people won’t give up their iPhones or Android devices for Firefox OS, but then again, that isn’t their audience. They are trying to make a light-weight OS that can run on cheaper phones that Android can’t run on. It is a way to bring the smartphone to people who currently can’t afford them. This is also why it isn’t even launching in the US initially, but Brazil instead.

Firefox OS is one to look out for, even if it might not reach our shores any time soon. But hey, it is open source and fully hack-able! It’s possible to run it on a number of Android devices or even the Raspberry Pi.

BlackBerry 10

Everyone knows that BlackBerry hasn’t been doing too well, and as is advisable in such situations, RIM is skipping a few version numbers and going straight to BlackBerry 10 or BlackBerry X. Does it have potential though? It just might! It’s hard to find a part of the OS that hasn’t been revamped or maybe it’s easier to say that this is an all new OS. The BlackBerry 10 OS is based on QNX now, features a fresh new UI that has been redesigned from the ground up for better multitasking and extensive touch and gesture support. The multitasking support on the OS is far ahead of the competition, and more along the lines of web OS and Maemo. Of course it still brings the good old features of BlackBerry (BBM for example), but adds on stuff like audio and video chat for BBM, a social media hub, an innovative predictive on screen keyboard, amongst other things. What’s equally important is that BlackBerry 10 also supports many routes of development for app developers. The device supports QT for its native development path, but also allows packaged web (HTML5) applications, Adobe AIR-based applications and even supports Android applications (such apps need to repack-aged for Black-Berry though). The more paths developers have means more apps for users.

BlackBerry 10

BlackBerry 10

KDE Plasma Active

If you’ve used Linux there is a strong chance you have heard of KDE. The history of the KDE brand is confusing, while it used to stand for K Desktop Environment, its current avatar KDE represents the community that makes the software. The KDE Software Compilation is the product of the KDE community and is an alternative to Gnome and Ubuntu’s Unity.

KDE Plasma Active is a project by the KDE community that aims to bring their software to tablets and they have taken a very unique approach in doing so.

Gnome and Unity decided to make a single UI that is somewhat touch friendly while still being passable on desktops. KDE developers on the other hand decided that each form factor needs its own optimized UI. As such they have a traditional desktop like UI, a netbook UI for smaller screen devices, and Plasma Active for tablet devices they may add a mobile version in the future as well.

Plasma Active also has a unique concept called activities that changes the way you work with tablets. Activities let you group together related files / data and applications and settings. So if you switch to your Work” activity, you’d have work related items on your desktop, work-related book-marks and contacts, and also work related applications and shortcuts.

Chrome OS

Chrome OS hasn’t died yet? We kid! The fact of the matter is that Chrome OS, and in turn Google’s Chromebooks have a very compelling use case. When Chrome OS and Chromebooks were announced a common reaction was, “An OS / computer that can only be used to browse the web? Meh!”

Chrome OS hasn’t died yet?

Chrome OS hasn’t died yet?

The idea isn’t as absurd as it might seem to some people. Putting it in perspective, gaming consoles (such as the XBOX 360/PS3) are computers designed specifically for games. Thus, just as a small percentage of people are willing to buy a device just to game, perhaps another small percentage would buy a device just to surf. If even 1 per cent of a billion people online would be willing to buy such a device, that’s sales of 10 million devices!

However, consoles are viable because the maker takes a cut from video game developers, and this keeps them afford-able. Google already dominates the internet advertisement space. Also, consoles need amazing hardware specifications, while devices meant solely for web browsing can be low powered, longer battery-life devices and these are cheaper. All Chromebooks need to do is make Google a net profit with ads. For us consumers, it’s a device that starts quickly, runs a wide variety of applications, and with the addition of Native Client, can even run games and heavy video / audio editing apps.

Linux on Desktops

Every year is the year of the Linux desktop; that is until every December 31st. The number of Linux users still hovers below 5 per cent. People stick to Windows for their favorite applications, and makers of those favorite applications don’t port for Linux citing a lack of user base.

Linux on Desktops

Linux on Desktops

The Achilles heel of Linux, gaming, had a good year in 2012, and 2013 is set to be even better. 2012 saw a number of Humble Bundles that resulted in numerous games becoming available for Linux, and it would be remiss of us to not mention Humble Indie Bundle V that brought critically acclaimed games such as Bastion, Limbo and Psychonauts to Linux. Even the Humble THQ Bundle despite controversy for using Steam and being Window only, compelled the THQ management to consider Linux support for future titles. Desura, a game store that sells games for Windows, Linux and Mac OSX, expanded from its Linux launch selection of around 60 titles to 200. The year also saw the release of the Unity 4.0 game engine, the first version to support Linux. Dozens of KickStarters launched, and many promised Linux support from the get-go.

This year also saw the announcement of and release of Steam for Linux. It has gone through a closed beta phase and is now widely available. Steam for Linux will have dozens of games that already support Linux, and most Valve titles are also expected to be available on the platform.

Another point of note with Steam and Linux is that Valve is working on a PC based console, and in all likelihood that console too will run Linux.

Steam also announced support for software titles this year which could also be released for Linux. Dell introduced a powerful Linux based laptop for developers that actually showcased software, rather than just drivers and a re-skin. The first professional grade, award-winning, non-linear video editor “Light works” might finally be released for Linux in 2013. 2013 the year of the Linux desktop? Don’t hold your breath, but anything’s possible.


Tizen! What can we say about this OS that is steeped in so much confusion. In short, Nokia makes Maemo Linux for mobile, Intel makes Moblin Linux for mobile, they have a bouncing baby called MeeGo. Nokia has an affair with Microsoft with little care for its bundle of joy. Meanwhile Intel starts courting Samsung and decides to abandon its child for a new one instead. That child is Tizen, and sadly it has a confused childhood (not to mention daddy issues). Samsung plans to merge its own Bada OS with Tizen and adopt Tizen for some of its phones in addition to Android and Windows Phone. Samsung is a powerful force in the mobile world, but Tizen 1.0 has come and gone without a commercial device running it and now Tizen 2.0 nears...

Two other dead projects have been on the path to resuscitation, web OS and MeeGo. While HP has open sourced web OS with no clear plans for a future product, exactly such a product might come from an external company called Phoenix International Communications. Likewise Jolla is set to revive MeeGo on its own set of devices, coming out in 2013.

The biggest surprise we hope would be if people actually realized that competition is good for all, and that there is no “winning” OS. In fact it would be terrible for one OS to win, as monopoly hurts the consumer. With a number of small companies trying to enter the smartphone market, there could be nothing better than said small companies offering a wide variety of devices, keeping the goliaths on their toes, and making sure we consumers get what we pay our hard earned money for.

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