The year Linux invaded CES: 5 major Linux appearances at CES 2015

Linux took center stage at CES 2015. These are my top 5 picks of Linux appearances at the event.

sony zx2 2
Credit: Sony
Sony announces Walkman powered by Android

Sony may have started a revolution with Walkman, prior to the Apple days when revolution was not the most overused adjective. However the device witnessed mass extinction upon the arrival of the mighty iPod. Sony has been trying hard to revive the brand with new and smarter Walkmans.

At CES Sony announced ZX2 which is targeted at really high-end audiophiles. What got my attention is the fact that the device is powered by the Linux-based Android operating system.

There is a problem in paradise: instead of using the latest and greatest Android 5.x, aka Lollipop, they are using the ancient 4.2. I really don't understand why companies keep doing this, but in Sony's case it may be that they chose a 3 year old version of the OS over Lollipop because the device is not meant to be an all-purpose tablet-like device. While you can download and install apps from the Google Play Store, the device is not meant to be used in that way; it is all in all a very high-end music player that happens to use Android.

NW-ZX2 comes with 128GB of built-in memory, in addition to a micro SD card slot. It comes with WiFi connectivity and a really large capacity battery that will give you over 60 hours of music playback. It supports many media formats including DSD, WAV, AIFF, FLAC, Apple Lossless, etc.

So how much does this thing cost? Hold onto your breath. Sony's ZX2 is going to cost you more than the price of a Macbook Air. Sony will be selling the device for $1,119.00.

As I said, it's a high-end device targeted at hardcore audiophiles. Before you are turned off by the price I have one piece of advice: Go try it (when it's available in stores) and you might understand what Sony is trying to do.

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LG Smartwatch powered by WebOS

Android was not the only prodigal son of Linux that enjoyed the center stage at CES. LG announced its smartwatch at CES and interestingly it's not running Android. LG collaborated with Audi to create this smartwatch that is powered by their very own operating system WebOS.

WebOS is a Linux-based operating system developed by Palm. Palm was sold to HP and they open sourced the operating system. As HP struggled to stay relevant in the post PC era, and juggled among various operating systems, they ended up licensing WebOS to LG for their smart TVs. Later LG acquired the OS from HP.  Now, even if LG is selling an exciting smartwatch running Android, they chose to push their own webOS to the market instead of Google Android.

The watch is a collaboration between Audi and LG. There will be many software components from Audi that will enable users to control their Audi cars. To me it looks more like an Audi accessory than a smartwatch. WebOS allows LG to tweak the OS and add features that its partners needed.

While I love the idea of more operating systems on the market, I wish there were compatibility between apps and less vendor lock - something we see with Samsung devices.

samsung tizen tv
Credit: Samsung
Samsung 4K TV powered by Tizen

LG is not the only company that is trying out Android alternatives. Samsung is working on its own Linux-based operating system, Tizen, which is hosted by none other than The Linux Foundation.

Tizen hasn't seen any success in the smartphone world, and I am not sure about Tizen's future regarding smart watches as well, given the arrival of Android Wear. However, the Korean giant is not going to give up and try their OS on a less competitive hardware.

A smart TV is less challenging than a smartphone to meet a user's expectations. A smart TV allows Samsung to put their OS at the center of our lives - the living room - without us even realizing it. At the same time, unlike smartphones, Samsung won’t have to struggle to get all popular apps on the platform. As the smart TV market grows, Samsung may eventually have enough users to create an ecosystem around Tizen.

While I like Tizen (because competition is always better), I am not sure I agree with the pundits who predict that Samsung wants to directly compete with Google. These two companies have totally different business models.

Google is primarily an advertising company; they have created products to support that model. Samsung on the contrary, is a hardware company and doesn't have a huge advertising network to match the one that Google has.

At the same time, Samsung doesn't have an app or content ecosystem that can beat Google - Gmail, YouTube, G+, Google Maps, Search, etc. I really don’t see Samsung ‘competing’ with Google. All I can see is Samsung trying to build their own operating system so they can control the ecosystem the way Apple does. It's more about owning the whole ecosystem than competing with Google.

Tizen also gives Samsung the differentiation it needs from the competitors. With Tizen, Samsung can create features not found on other Android devices, and they can tie smartphones, tablets, TVs and smart watches together, locking other users out.

Personally I don't understand what Samsung is trying to do with Tizen that can't be done with Android. Let's wait and see how Tizen powered smart TVs pan out.

firefox os panasonic 1
Credit: Mozilla
Panasonic TV powered by Firefox OS

Panasonic shocked us all with the announcement of Firefox OS-powered 4K smart TVs. Firefox OS is a GNU/Linux based distribution targeted at smartphones, tablets and now smart TVs. That also means that Mozilla has managed to beat Canonical, the company that announced its Ubuntu TV ambitions at the same time Mozilla did.  As it turns out, Mozilla is better at getting hardware partners than Canonical.

Mozilla already has many leading hardware vendors and carriers onboard to bring Firefox OS-powered mobile phones to the market. Mozilla corporation also managed to build a Chromecast-like HDMI dongle through Matchstick.

Firefox OS uses a lot of open source and open standard technologies such as HTML5. So it's a much more open ecosystem than other players.

As far as Canonical is concerned, we haven't heard of any major brands backing the OS for TV. The first Ubuntu phones will be coming to the market this year.

compute stick ubuntu
Credit: Intel
Intel's Compute Stick

Another pleasant surprise came from Intel, which announced something they call 'Compute Stick'. Before you think that it's Intel's attempt to get into the Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV Stick market let me tell you that it's much more than that.

It's a complete PC crammed into a USB stick and comes in two versions: One runs Ubuntu, a Linux-based operating system developed by Canonical, and other runs Windows. The stick has a quad-core Atom processor (Bay Trail) that beats at the rate of 1.3GHz. The Windows version has 2GB of RAM and comes with 32GB of on-board storage. Sadly, the Linux version comes with only 1GB of RAM and 8GB of storage. But it's priced at mere $89.

The device has full-sized HDMI port, a USB-port, a MicroSD slot, a Micro USB port, Bluetooth 4.0 and WiFi.

All you need to do is plug it into the HDMI port of your monitor, grab a wireless mouse and keyboard, and get started. I trust that whether it's the Ubuntu version or the Windows version you should be able to install any version of Linux on it.

I do wish companies would stop discriminating between OSes and offer the same hardware for Linux as well as Windows.

Which one are you getting?