Android Apps in Linux Changes Everything

Tuesday Mar 27th 2012 by Matt Hartley
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More software titles could means more Linux users.

With the news that the Linux kernel is going to see Android compatibility, there has been a growing sense that Android apps will be finding themselves at home on the Linux desktop.

In this article, I will dive into how Android compatibility might affect the desktop Linux and what we might see happening in the near future as well. While the news of Android compatibility might seem unimportant to the casual Linux user, it could potentially mean big opportunities for Android developers.

Android on your desktop

When the news of Android compatibility was announced, I immediately heard from Android developers who saw this as an opportunity for their applications to run on the Linux desktop.

Obviously, there's going to be plenty of applications designed for Android that won't run on Linux because of the X window system. In the long run, however, I think that there'll be plenty of cool Android applications that will run on Linux without much tweaking at all.

So why does this matter? The answer is simple – more software means more choices. And more software choices translates into more newcomers to Linux, attracted by familiar software titles they already enjoy on their Android phones.

Back on the Android development front, I envision many tablet-ready applications finding their way into app stores such as the Ubuntu Software Center. It's decisions like this – made by both kernel developers and Google alike – that are going to pay big dividends with extra user adoption down the road.

A gateway to proprietary apps

Photoshop Touch for Android not only exists, it actually works pretty well. Now, consider the potential of a Photoshop title coming to desktop Linux? Thanks to the Android code now bundled in the kernel, I see no reason why future releases of Photoshop Touch couldn't make its way to the Linux desktop.

Obviously, the current release of Photoshop Touch is a touch-based application. Therefore it wouldn't be too pleasant to use without a touch screen environment. But who's to say that the next release won't have an option to work with both a mouse or a touch-based option? Thanks to Android, existing titles can be expanded into the Linux space, should Adobe wish them to be.

Of course, this begs the bigger question: are proprietary apps in a position where software porting makes sense on the Linux desktop? Yes, I believe that with this Android inclusion, we will begin to see a flood of new proprietary applications making their way onto the Linux desktop. I also believe we're going to see a big uptick in new users.

That said, here's the problem – I generally prefer using FoSS-licensed applications on my Linux box. Not because I consider myself a "FoSS purist," rather because I dislike vendor lock-in. It's generally impractical and is entirely too controlling for my taste.

Worse, this embrace of Android in Linux could simply push forth more Chrome OS/Android dominance on the desktop, leaving other distributions out in the dark. Well, at least that is a theory I've heard from some of the more "concerned" Linux enthusiasts out there.

Paranoia aside, there isn't likely going to be any Google conspiracies trying to gain more users for Google products.

The DRM factor

I think in the long run, Android apps will make their way to the Linux desktop after some brief adoption period passes by. Once this happens, additional DRM-based content will likely be made available to all Linux users, not just those running Android and Chrome OS.

Remember, while we still have zero access to options like Netflix on Linux, it's currently available on Chrome OS. So we know that this kind of content, through Google operating systems, is doable.

The really cool thing about this is that those who choose not to participate with DRM usage won't have to. Simply avoiding Flash and the Chrome browser (not Chrome OS) are a good place to start from this perspective.

And those who want access to the media that this DRM allows for may finally have the freedom to make this decision on an OS of their choosing. That will present some interesting debates in the near future. Software freedom arguments are likely to only grow more heated from here on out.

Android + Google Play = Happy Users

Google isn't looking to corral everyone into their own platform exclusively. Google is more than happy to capture you with their other portals, such as Google Play, for example.

When you consider the fact that Android apps will be able to run on the Linux desktop, this only serves to widen Google's already growing base of Android users. This means that options like Google Play will soon be viable (DRM and all). Music, movies and more will be available to users of all platforms using Google Play.

Android compatibility in the Linux kernel comes into play when Linux users want to enjoy Android applications from their Google Play accounts. While this is hardly the only way to enjoy Android on your desktop, Google has gone out of their way to make it fairly easy to access.

I personally believe that the bulk of Android adoption that will take place on the Linux desktop will transpire through Google Play.

Android driving software development

One area that remains murky for me, is in trying to determine how Android applications on the Linux desktop affects new application development.

New software development translates into new stuff for me to play with. However, the real question is whether or not these new applications will be designed just for Android tablets and phones, or for a desktop experience as well.

And therein lies the problem. Even with all of these great Android applications making their way onto the Linux desktop, will the fact that they're designed for a touch-based interface prove to be a hindrance?

I can't help but think that any Android applications that do make their way onto the Linux desktop could be facing an uphill battle.

Native apps are more natural

One issue I wonder about: how Android apps will fare against the applications we already use on the Linux desktop?

Think about it this way: are we likely to replace applications that already work well? It's not too likely, since many natively running applications, like Thunderbird or LibreOffice, already work well and are designed for a keyboard/mouse environment.

In the end, I see Android applications presenting an interesting complement to an already strong library of natively supported FoSS applications for Linux. As far as I'm concerned, any benefits that Android compatibility can lend to the Linux desktop are welcome.

Yet when all is said and done, Android won't likely change the way existing Linux enthusiasts enjoy their desktop experience.

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