The mobile market is a mess. A melange of different platforms supporting a diaspora of handsets on a plethora of networks. Throw in the variety of contract choices and you don't so much buy a phone as fill in a questionnaire.
But mobile is the future of computing. Take the web: browsing patterns have changed significantly for the first time in a decade or so as the mobile web matures and people view their favourite sites early in the morning and late at night. Ditto e-commerce: mobile web access means online stores now make sales 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
And as smartphones proliferate, applications drive innovation. Basic apps are simple to build, and the fragmented, immature nature of the market means that there's a great wedge of market share up for grabs. There's gold in them thar cells.
Compare mobile with the more staid desktop- and laptop-computing world and the reverse is true. By and large, everyone who wants a PC has one. From the technology Wild West of the 1980s has emerged a classic US-style market: one dominant, stable giant (Microsoft), and a boutique, high-end competitor (Apple).
But there is a third wheel. Linux. Since Linus Torvalds wrote the Linux kernel in the early 90s, open-source fans have loudly espoused its proficiency and security. Each successive release of Ubuntu, for instance, leads to claims that Linux is “ready for prime time”. And each successive release on the desktop has failed to live up to the hype. So far.
The problem has principally been one of compatibility. If the rest of the world is using Windows, hard- and software manufacturers will build their products for that system. Where Apple mavens and their wallets are catered for, freeloading Linux users had to be sufficiently technical to get around compatibility issues, meaning they had to be technically adept. Not your average user.
Which is a shame. For a good while now, Ubuntu in particular has been stable, feature-filled and, you know, proper. It works, and it works well. As our Maverick Meerkat review will show, there's nothing to fear in Linux. Plus: it's free and – due in part to its smaller market share – it's more secure than Windows.
These days, the web is a greater unifying tool than any operating system for computing devices. If the ultra-bitty world of the mobile phone can hang together via the internet, there's no longer a need to avoid Linux. With Ubuntu, you'll find that most hardware peripherals work perfectly well, and for those that don't you can quickly research a fix.
Is Linux about to take over? Not a chance. But it is now a viable alternative, for everyone. And when you factor in the savings it can offer, that has to be a good thing.