2007 was a different world. Linux was taking a harsh beating on all sides. While its smartphone OS market share was growing, that growth was far from rapid. Symbian held a commanding lead and, while iOS was still comparatively tiny, the astounding success of the first iPhone had everyone anticipating Apple dominance in the near future.
In the realm of servers, a traditional Linux strongpoint, the open-source OS was starting to see a reversal of fortunes. Windows Server was ascendant, and over in the desktop market Linux barely even counted as a player. Open source failed in the world of big gray and black boxes, and for a time it seemed as if it might die out as a viable OS choice altogether. Articles fretting over the limited future of the open source movement feared that it was doomed to be marginalized at best.
Then along came Android.
Now Linux is ascendent, while pundits fret over the death of the desktop. Consumers want to be mobile now. Apple addicted the whole damn world with that first hit of iPhone, and now we're jonesin' for any sexy, slim piece of tech with a touchscreen and decent wireless connectivity.
The desktop will never die out. Nothing ever truly dies out in this industry. But it will continue to grow more and more marginalized. The desktop market is slow, stately. An OS like Windows does well in an environment like that, where users change machines maybe once every several years.
But the mobile industry turns over fast. Every three or four months, there's a new "best phone". Every two years (sometimes more often) we switch phones. This year alone, the Nexus One gave way to the Evo and the iPhone 4, who duked it out until the Droid 2 and the Galaxy S-series rolled in to joust with Apple's titan. Even iOS is slightly too slow and static to take full advantage of the nature of the mobile marketplace. There's a reason Linux-enabled smartphones are expected to own more than a third of the smartphone market share by 2015.
The iPad is the future of personal computing, at least until something more convenient rolls around. Sure, it doesn't have the power of a full desktop or even a full notebook. What it HAS is incredible portability, a long battery life that gives it a full day and change of use on a single charge, and the ability to do almost everything the average consumer wants to do on a computer.
Most people don't play high-intensity games on their PCs. Most people don't need to do video editing or rendering or anything else that requires a monster processor. The iPad is slightly too limited to replace everyone's desktop and laptop. But other tablets are coming soon and they will focus heavily on bringing more productivity to the table.
Android won't be the only player here, or even the largest. Chrome OS has the potential to really lock down this new gadget class. MeeGo also looks promising. Both are open-source, Linux-based operating systems-just like Android.
The future may not be open source, but the NOW sure as hell is. And tomorrow's looking pretty good too.