Since its development in the early 90s, Linux had been relegated to a fairly marginal place in the world of computers. Making up only a tiny sliver of market share on home computers every year, Linux’s image became one of geekdom at its most pure – a tiny but fervent community of dedicated computer nerds obsessed with customization and open source code. While the community thrived, and newer, better iterations of the OS were turned out by the hundreds, Linux seemed incapable of ever truly breaking into the mainstream. Computing’s two-party system seemed able to accomodate only Mac and Windows as its perennial candidates, Linux doomed to the equivalent fates of Ralph Nader and Ross Perot.
Then, in 2007, everything changed. Google unveiled the Android operating system, based on the Linux kernel, for smartphones. It was a watershed moment for Linux – not only because Google, one of the most influential companies in the world, was now officially standing side by side with the few but passionate devotees, but also because Google was making Android open. That is, anyone could download, modify, and redistribute Android versions to their heart’s content. Google handed it out to phone manufacturers for free, a stark contrast with Apple’s iPhone, the one and only device that would ever run the iOS system (until the iPad and iPod touch, that is).
Four quick years later, and Android is officially the number one smartphone platform in the world, taking 43% of the global market. This is a huge triumph for Google, of course; but it’s also a monumental achievement for Linux, the little, beloved kernel that is nothing less than Android’s mom and dad. Sure, Linux still only takes 1% of the desktop market, but with the mass movement in tech towards mobile computing, desktops are the last thing on Apple’s, Google’s, or anyone else’s minds. It’s been decided that mobile is the future, and mobile is where Android reigns supreme. The idea would have been inconceivable 5 years ago, but it’s finally happened. Linux is on top of the world.