It’s no secret that I slipped out of the blogosphere, with little fanfare. I’ll explain in a
few hundred couple thousand words what it was all about, and why Console OS is so important today.
Life with Too Many Walls
I’ve been fighting the walled gardens since the days when there was only one. It was called BREW. It was awesome and terrible at the same time. On one hand, BREW (built by Qualcomm, ironically), was a native code environment for feature phones. Technically, it still is. But, if you see someone using it today, you typically are feeling sorry for them.
I digress, BREW was better than J2ME. It gave apps instant responsiveness and beat J2ME to market on nearly every API. From turn-by-turn navigation, to even playing Sega Saturn-era games (in a pre-iPhone world)… on a feature phone! BREW did it first.
It was also the worst. See, you couldn’t just download an SDK and submit a game to the app store. You had to be part of the “in” crowd to even get the permission to make a BREW app. Then you had to have contracts with the carriers to ship it, and with Qualcomm to have the SDK before that.
This was the walled garden. And, eventually, it lost. It lost to smartphones. But, in its death, a new wave of walled gardens rose. Apple’s iOS and its walled garden replaced BREW’s walled garden of evil. Today, Windows 8 even has a walled garden… albeit one that continues to face “market challenges” (to put it mildly).
With a walled garden, the OS vendor gets to decide if you can, or can’t, run an app. Governments then get to use that power to decide what people can become journalists. Ask anyone over in the country of China trying to publish a News App on iOS or the Windows Store.
Games Came Before Phones
I saw this early on, but on a different platform – video games. Video games mirrored this walled garden. From the original cartridge restrictions that SEGA and Nintendo had, to the API-binded compiled code in XNA on Xbox 360. Consoles got very savvy at making sure they could decide what games you could, or couldn’t, run on a console.
In 2009, a small team of mine created Project Full Circle. We spent thousands of dollars (on credit cards) on it. It seamlessly merged Ubuntu and XBMC (this was innovative at the time, OpenELEC and other platforms didn’t exist), and built a game store atop it. It failed. Press didn’t want to cover it. Developers balked. Nobody wants to make a game on Linux, I was told. Valve literally turned their backs on our efforts, yanking promotional materials at trade shows we had in badge inserts.
If Full Circle sounds a lot like SteamOS, it was. My team gave them that blueprint on a silver platter. I’m not bitter – though it would have been nice for Valve to at least have been welcoming enough to chat about it at the time. In fact, quite the contrary. Valve was the one player in the industry that could get Debian Linux sexy enough for other game developers to hop on board. I know, because even I couldn’t pull it off.
In 2011, some folks came to me to get the old gang back together. The idea was simple. MeeGo would leverage the Nokia vanguard to create what Android couldn’t do well at the time, native apps. And, MeeGo could scale really well. The desktop version of MeeGo was really similar to Ubuntu. Something we knew could scale and take on traditional consoles, if built up properly.
At MeeGo SF in 2011, we first showed off that dev kit. It was called internally, Unit Zero. We got to demo it a good solid ninety days before Intel, abandoned by Nokia (and their billion-dollar-bribe from another industry giant), aborted their joint venture… and left Intel to shut down MeeGo. The rest, is history. MeeGo’s purpose is finally getting back on track in the Tizen initiative, though many portions of it are absent – Tizen is more focused, leaner, and gunning for wearables and emerging onto smartphones this summer.
At this point, I’d shown that I could make design concepts on x86 hardware, to the important players. But, it wasn’t my day job. And, Tizen, at the time, was mostly focused on HTML5. What we needed from MeeGo, Tizen would take years to get back to doing… and while Tizen is market-ready today, it’s not directly targeting the PC and console markets.
Thankfully, the platform we thought couldn’t get there, did.
In my spare time, while working in the IT sector, I started playing around with skunkworks-grade, homebrew builds of Android 4.0 on x86. Buggy, crashing left and right, I asked a few people to rig up some Radeon enablers and pipe Android onto hardware that hadn’t handled it before. It didn’t look very good. But, we did manage to get OpenGL ES 2 running on an AMD Fusion A6 system. It showed that yes, you could mouse around and get a game running pretty darn well.
But, this was nothing more than a souped-up science fair project. Android wasn’t ready. Thankfully, two major things happened in the mean time that would let me, and my team, stand on the shoulders of giants.
Google decided to do something simply amazing. With the release of Jelly Bean 4.1, Google began pumping the entire OS through the GPU – just like Windows and OS X. The benefit, of course, is game developers are guaranteed a GPU – before, Android phones could ship with only marginal OpenGL ES 1.1 acceleration – and 3D gaming was very much an optional thing on Android until then.
That put us on a trajectory, but we didn’t have a product yet. Intel, however, started thinking seriously about Android on IA, and committed in a joint venture with Google to make it happen. So, we asked ourselves, could we plug OpenGL 3 (at the time) into Android, and pump that to a discreet GPU? The answer was yes, even though we didn’t know how at the time.
Google again, stepped in with the delivery of OpenGL ES 3 support in Android 4.3, still Jelly Bean, but now a product could be built.
iConsole’s Bumpy Road to Innovation
Last September, my team shipped iConsole Unit 00 – powered originally by Jelly Bean, it was (and still is) the most powerful Android device shipped to-date. It’s out of stock, at the moment. It’ll be back soon with some new stuff.
iConsole Unit 00 is about half the size of the old-gen Mac Pros. It does one thing really well – letting Android play games at the caliber of an Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3. On Android. It lets developers step up to the next generation of Android gaming, right now.
We pounded the pavement like crazy. Intel was gracious enough to invite us to many conferences and we got a lot of exposure. To be clear, it wasn’t easy – Intel didn’t ask for iConsole. As a startup, it was pounding on a lot of glass doors, and a lot of bumpy road.
I’ll get to the point – Unit 00 wasn’t popular with developers initially. Again, we’ll be back with new hardware now that Console OS has landed. But, developers did tell us why. They loved the hardware. They were afraid of the demand curve. We proved Android could scale well. But, we couldn’t prove that there would be a million homes with Android at the same level as Unit 00.
This left us in a big pickle, and things were pretty on the rocks. How do we get Android, faster than ever before, into the hands of lots of people?
It was then we realized that there is a whole sea of devices that we could adapt the iConsole stack to – and release one by one until we had the industry’s backing. Instead of selling iConsole as a box initially, we needed to adapt the iConsole operating system to existing high-performance PCs, so end users could embrace the platform.
And that’s where Console OS got started. The double entendre is all about what our vision was, and how it changed to today.
Console OS with Android™ Inside
If you haven’t heard about ConsoleOS.com – I’ll save you the sales pitch in graphic detail. Check out the launch videos there and see what we’ve done to Android.
Console OS today is focused on PC tablets, 2-in-1’s, and Ultrabooks – getting them to dual-boot Windows® and Android. Making it so you can toggle between native, flawless Android and productive Windows in mere moments. Two OS consoles living harmoniously in one tablet, laptop, or box.
But, at the same time, we’re showing that PC Tablets running Android can do amazing things – do innovative and amazing stuff that Android on ARM can’t do today. It’s about scaling Android up to take on the desktop, and someday, the mainstream gaming console world. We’re building an army of high-performance touch (and yes, non-touch) Android devices that have the horsepower to rival an Xbox® or PlayStation® in the current era.
Along the way, we realized that one of the beauties of the PC tablet, was that it also was used by most as a desktop. Toss in a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse, and it’s a PC. So, we started making a desktop-friendly user experience. Then, we made the touch elements optional – and found in testing that it worked really well with a garden variety desktop or laptop (sans touch).
Going to The Market
Late last week, Console OS debuted on Kickstarter. It had an amazing launch. By Saturday, it had trended up to being the number-one Kickstarter worldwide in popularity. Before we hit day five, we’ve already reached half our initial goal for fundraising.
At $10, we’re offering up Console OS Pro, with free upgrades for life. That’s half the price of just Console OS Pro v1.0, and you get every major upgrade afterwards free of charge, on all the compatible systems you own.
Different people are going to find different benefits from Console OS Pro. Some are going to take their $199 Dell Venue 8 Pro (or $1,099 VAIO Tap 11) and dual-boot with it. Some will take an Intel Next Unit of Computing (NUC) and use Console OS with Android as their primary operating system. Others will ask game developers to tweak their games, and rock an Iris Pro-tuned first person shooter – all within Android, and enjoy true console-quality gaming. In sum, we’re a lot more than just dual-boot for the x86 world.
That’s not why though…
For me, this is not about all that. Yes, it’s all innovative, and it’s all extremely important. It’s not why I sacrificed my career, risked more than I ever should have, or wanted to put the people around me through in terms of grief.
It’s because today, OS X won’t let you sideload an app unless you ask Apple for permission to do so. I never thought I’d see the day where a Macintosh computer would complain that you didn’t obtain software from The Company Store – and to novice users, outright block the act. Only a sophisticated computer user even knows how to sideload an app on Mac today. It’s sad. That’s not the Apple I supported. No company should have the power to say if you can, or can’t, run an app.
But traditional Linux lost the war against the walled gardens. To beat the walled gardens, you have to have an operating system that people like. Thankfully, Android is the most popular OS in the world today. More new devices are powered up each day running Android, than iOS, OS X, Windows (anything), or any other form of Linux.
So, if Android is popular, it resists walled gardens, it only is logical that we scale Android up to do all the stuff traditional operating systems do on the desktop. And, that’s how Console OS came to be. You now know the whole story of the last half-decade of my journey on this.
With Console OS, the operating system that refuses to tell you if you can, or can’t, run the apps you want, will now rise up on the PC, and the PC tablet. Where it goes next, is something that I have the honor to be involved in. In a mere four days, we raised tens of thousands of dollars from people like you – because this is important. The freedom of you to decide what you run on your computer is what matters.
We need to raise a lot more to finish the fight. It’s not often I ask you, the reader for help, but this time, it really does matter.
And, finally, thanks to everyone that has helped get me, and my team, to this point. We won’t let you down.