10 ways Linux is making life better

From in-vehicle PCs to set-top boxes, the open source operating system now powers countless innovative and everyday devices.

Linux has long played a leading role in the world of servers, due in large part to its stability, security and lower total cost of ownership (TCO). What many don't realize, however, is just how ubiquitous it's becoming in other parts of life as well.

Not only are distributions like Ubuntu helping Linux make great strides on the desktop, but the open source operating system is now quietly powering myriad innovations that many of us take for granted.

Where can Linux be found today? Let's count just a few of the many places it's making life better.

1. Android

First and foremost, of course, is Android, Google's Linux-based mobile operating system. Well-poised to relegate Apple's successful iPhone to the realm of niche devices, Android is giving the popular iPad a run for its money as well. By putting Linux in the hands of countless mobile consumers around the globe, Android is arguably Linux's greatest mainstream success to date.

Then, too, there's also Chrome OS, which will reportedly figure prominently in a low-cost notebook PC coming from Asus this summer, among other devices.

2. WebOS

Packed with perhaps as much potential as Android is HP's recent decision to use WebOS on pretty much all its desktops and laptops, not to mention tablets and phones as well. WebOS is, of course, a Linux-based operating system originally developed by Palm. With HP's new strategy, Linux will land on the desktops, laps and hands of countless more consumers as well, giving it another huge boost toward mainstream ubiquity.

3. Niche PCs

Even aside from all the many consumer PCs already running Linux, we're also starting to see the operating system powering niche PCs as well. Take the recently debuted KiWi PC, for instance. Targeting senior citizens, the Ubuntu-loaded machine uses Linux to make computing stress-free for senior citizens. "KiWi PC is powered by an Ubuntu operating system, which generates visible and easy navigation from startup to shutdown," as the device's Web site explains. "The Ubuntu operating system creates a user-friendly desktop, allowing senior citizens to have immediate access to their email and the Internet hassle-free." So much for the myth that Linux is harder to use.

4. Set-top boxes

Though it's not typically visible to the user, Linux is often at the heart of the ubiquitous set-top box that so many of us use for streaming content, for example. The Ubuntu-powered Neuros Link is just one example.

5. ATMs

Windows really isn't secure enough for banking, as many experts have been warning for years, so it's no great surprise to see Linux increasingly used in automated teller machines instead. A project at Brazilian bank Banrisul, for example, has received considerable fanfare.

6. In-Vehicle PCs

Another recently announced Linux innovation is a series of PCs designed for agriculture and construction vehicles. Built for rugged conditions and harsh environments, the Grayhill devices offer a choice of Linux or Windows CE.

Linux has also popped up previously in vehicles including Mavizen's award-winning TTX02 electric motorcycle. Then, too, there's the fact that car companies including both Toyota and Peugeot are using Linux as well.

7. Wikipedia, Google and More

If you've ever used Wikipedia, then you've benefited from Linux, at least indirectly. In fact, Wikipedia is now using Ubuntu after years on Red Hat and Fedora. Wondering about scalability? At Wikipedia Ubuntu now reportedly powers some 10 billion page views a month.

While we're on the subject of corporate applications, Google, Amazon, Cisco, IBM, the New York Stock Exchange and Virgin America are all renowned users of Linux, too.

8. One Laptop Per Child

Aiming to create devices that can be distributed to millions of disadvantaged children around the world, the One Laptop Per Child project has built its XO laptops to take advantage of the many freedoms of Linux.

9. Government

In the United States alone, the U.S. Postal Service, the U.S. Department of Defense and the FAA are all among the high-profile governmental users of Linux. Then there are all the many governments around the world that have made similar decisions, including France, Spain, Germany and Switzerland.

10. IBM's Watson

Last but not least, the Watson supercomputer that wowed the world with its performance on Jeopardy recently runs on none other than Linux.

Those, of course, are just a small sampling of all the many places Linux is to be found. Still, taken together, they make a pretty convincing argument for the power of the open source operating system. No wonder more and more businesses are seeing past the myths and switching to Linux themselves.

Follow Katherine Noyes on Twitter: @Noyesk .

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Katherine Noyes

PC World (US online)
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