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Alternative mobile OSes try but fail to rise in the enterprise

Alternative mobile operating systems to Android and iOS have tried but failed to unseat the key players. Does a new mobile OS even stand a chance in the enterprise?

It's no secret that Android and iOS dominate the mobile operating system world today, but that doesn't mean they will hold the mobile throne forever. To best predict what's coming next, IT pros should take a look at the alternative mobile OSes that have been nipping at Google's and Apple's heels.

Android holds about 85% of the mobile operating system (OS) market, and iOS about 14%, leaving about 1% for everyone else. BlackBerry OS and Symbian, both previous market giants, are pushing up daisies. Microsoft should have cleaned up the mobile OS game with Windows, but one clueless implementation choice after another clueless design decision drove users to Linux, and the remainder to Apple.

Let's assume that Linux, Mac OS and Windows will continue to dominate desktops, but that many organizations will continue to transition to mobile devices -- tablets, handsets, Chromebooks and similar thin clients -- over time. If there is a chance that a new OS might one day prosper in the enterprise, what are some possible alternatives to Android and iOS?

Efforts to unseat the two titans have been nothing short of miserable failures. One bright spot on the horizon a few years ago was Samsung's Tizen OS, another Linux derivative, but one decidedly focused on the cloud -- not unlike another strong, but ultimately losing effort, webOS. WebOS was originally developed by Palm, acquired by HP, licensed by LG and now owned by Qualcomm. Samsung is -- hot battery technology notwithstanding -- the leader in Android mobile devices, but lacks an ecosystem of hardware, OS, app store and, well, everything that Apple, Google and Microsoft offer.

Efforts to unseat the two titans have been nothing short of miserable failures.

So far, though, Tizen has not made many strides on the OS front; ditto for other major independent efforts from software leaders, such as Firefox and Ubuntu. There is no open interface -- a core feature of PCs -- between handset hardware and an OS. A mobile device vendor must sign up to carry a new OS, but that seems unlikely without a groundswell of end-user demand, the likes of which propelled Linux.

Why is that? Because no one buys an operating system; they buy apps and the hardware/software combinations that run those apps. With Linux being truly free, proven across many platforms, high in function and already in place in the form of Android, it seems unlikely that any mobile device vendor will make any investment in a truly new OS, despite the possibility for new innovation. After all, Linux is the platform for applications today, with only Microsoft Windows taking an entirely different direction (Mac OS and iOS are also UNIX derivatives), and Windows 10 is controversial at best. In short, Linux works. Add in software container technology, which further isolates apps from their execution environment, and, well -- it is, indeed, all about the apps.

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Ultimately, is there really a need for alternative mobile OSes in the enterprise? IT today is really all about the data, and managing data in the cloud will become the dominant strategy across all of organizational and consumer IT. Google's Chromebook points the way; if one thinks of the mobile device as just a host for containerized software linking to cloud-resident data, the mobile OS fades into the woodwork.

Still, with tablet sales stagnant and innovations in handset hardware incremental at best, it would seem that a new software platform offering real innovations that advance productivity and open new opportunities might be just what the mobile device marketing doctor might order. It remains to be seen if any alternative mobile OSes might one day rise to the occasion.

Next Steps

Why a mobile OS war is a good thing

Android and iOS add more enterprise features

Compare mobile operating systems

This was last published in November 2016

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