Will Linux Run On Facebook’s Phone?

Facebook HQKaran Shah’s article in Tech2, “Facebook Phone May Run On Linux And Opera,” had me wondering if the company’s really prepared to field and support a specialized version of Linux on a phone. It’s possible, since Linux runs on some pretty small platforms. The $35 Raspberry Pi, for example sports several versions including Fedora, Debian, and ArchLinux. Ubuntu has not yet committed.

Let’s not forget that Android actually uses a Linux kernel and runs on countless mobile devices. For example, you can even SSH into an Android device and perform command line functions, without troubles. Sorry, X isn’t very well supported yet. It’s coming, though.

There are two real questions in my mind: Why would Facebook want to put out their own phone? And, why would they use Linux?

Facebook’s product is a Web-based social media service. It allows users to interact with each other. There is no real physical product. Like it or not, it’s competing with many other social media sites, including things like Google+. As a company, Google is service based, too, but it has all kinds of apps like Google Maps, Google Earth, Blogger, Chrome browser, etc.

Facebook may feel that having its own phone gives it the advantage of controlling the whole user experience and, by extension, the market. Google certainly isn’t calling all the shots, spreading Android across a dozen hardware providers and the carriers. Building up a phone business, perhaps using VoIP, might be another way for Facebook to differentiate itself from the other social players. WiFi is coming on strong and carriers are using it to off-load data traffic. Could the Facebook phone take advantage of WiFi hotspots? Sure, but it still faces the huge problem of providing cell and data service when out of range. How will it corral that problem? We don’t know yet.

Next, why would Facebook want to run its own version of Linux?

Since its inception in 1991, the Linux market has matured considerably. Linux programmers and developers are some of the most capable IT people anywhere. It’s system administrators scale up to unbelievable numbers of servers and peripherals. They run everything from big database engines to Web servers, down to everyday notebooks. And, Android is very similar.

Facebook might not need to change that much on a phone to run Linux. Phone and tablet hardware continues to get more capable every day. My Asus Transformer Prime  is now multi-tasking via the Ice Cream Sandwich. Being able to run the Chrome browser, then flip over to a photo gallery, then over to an Internet radio app — all in the background — is a great time saver for me. Yes, the hardware is getting very good.

So, I can see where Facebook might be able to recruit a lot of Linux developers, simply because the hardware just works and they won’t have that big a jump to the new environment.

What do you think?

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