Reflections on a Chrome-Plated World

Some weeks, there’s just no question what topics need to be covered here on the Linux Blog Safari.

Take last week, for example. On blog after blog, our travels throughout the Linux blogosphere revealed countless variations on the same, underlying theme: the announcement of Google’s Chrome operating system.

Though by no means an exhaustive list, here are some of the places we found discussions of the Chrome OS:

‘I Welcome Our Google Overlords’

That Google’s original announcement drew more than 5,300 Diggs and 650 comments by Friday is some small indication of the level of excitement that’s going on here.

“A fast, lightweight operating system based on Linux, designed specifically with internet use in mind, most likely to include Quicksilver functionality natively?” wrote MattJF317 on Digg. “Yes, please. I, for one, welcome our Google overlords.”

Taking a more guarded stance: “Scary,” wrote rebolyte. “It will probably be amazing, but scary. Google’s dominion grows.”

‘We’ve Got Ubuntu’

At the same time, a post on ZDNet Australia entitled, “No thanks Google, we’ve got Ubuntu” makes it clear the mood wasn’t all awe and enthusiasm.

“Google’s decision to create its own Linux distribution and splinter the Linux community decisively once again can only be seen as foolhardy and self-obsessive,” wrote ZDNet’s Renai LeMay. “Instead of treading its own path, Google should have sought to leverage the stellar work already carried out by Mark Shuttleworth and his band of merry coders and tied its horse to the Ubuntu cart.”

So, what to make of it all? Overwhelmed by the din of a bazillion blogging voices, Linux Girl took to the streets to find out.

‘I Don’t See It Moving to Real Desktops’

“Given the little amount of information we currently have on Chrome OS, there is little that can be said on it at the moment,” Fred Albrecht, a Linux freelancer and Slashdot blogger, told LinuxInsider.

“The only piece of news seems to be that it won’t be relying on X,” he said, “which as usual divides users on two camps: those who have an irrational hatred of X11 ‘because it’s bloated’ (which it isn’t really), and the rest who still think that it’s one of the better things around to build upon because of its many functionalities, even though casual users won’t use many of them.”

It might be that “it will make a fine OS for little systems — since initially they seem to target netbooks — meant for occasional use,” Albrecht added, “but I don’t see it moving to real desktops, where the existing wealth of software would be lost. JavaScript is fine, but it’s not going to replace BibblePro or digiKam for me any time soon.”

‘A Natural Performance Advantage’

Indeed, “everything revolves around Google’s custom windowing stack,” Todd Bandrowsky, a computer consultant, Slashdot blogger and writer at The Treatyist, told LinuxInsider. “If it is really good, I would not be too surprised if X windows were swept aside in favor of Chrome OS’s new system. If it isn’t good, then Chrome OS won’t be widely adopted.”

Native programming is also “pretty essential,” he noted. “Linux has the rap of being a web and database server operating system, and there’s always the camp that argues that a computer just needs to be either a server or a browser.”

Linux is “a pretty friendly environment for C++,” however, and “one of the great stories about Linux is how C++ and other native code development tools continue to improve,” Bandrowsky pointed out.

“It would be foolish, I think, for the Linux community to give up on what is a natural performance advantage over the increasingly .NETified Windows platform,” he said.

It makes sense for Google to start “a whole new project for Netbooks,” Montreal consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack noted.

“The result will be a lot cleaner and more useable than the past attempts at taking Google’s smart phone OS and extending that to Netbooks,” he said.

‘It’s Not Going to Change the World”

“I’m tired of hearing news about Chrome OS,” Slashdot blogger Mhall119 told LinuxInsider. “It’s Linux with a new window manager. Great. It could be very nice, it could suck really bad. Either way, it’s not going to change the world, and we won’t know anything anyway until it’s released.

“The part that really ticks me off, though, is that while NPR devoted a 20-minute segment to talking about it, not once did I hear mention of Linux or Open Source,” Mhall119 added. “It’s like there’s a media fear of the name Linux — they can’t even bring themselves to mention it.”

To succeed, “Chrome OS needs open source users and developers to compete with the massive number of Windows users and developers,” he noted, “but if Google pretends it has nothing to do with Linux or Open Source, they won’t be getting any.”

‘One More Nail in the Wintel Coffin’

On the consumer front, “I think it’s a question of whether the imprimatur of Google is enough to convince people Chrome OS is something they want,” Slashdot blogger yagu told LinuxInsider. “Google has the reputation for creating excellent and useful products, and it has changed the way we think about network computing. But is that enough? I don’t know.”

Whether it’s rational or not, everyone has their own belief system about “what constitutes a ‘complete’ PC, and for most that means the standard suite ofapplications,” yagu explained. “Whether they use it or not, people want Office. Whether they use it or not, many want Photoshop. Has Google changed the game enough that users would consider Chrome OS necessary and sufficient? I don’t know.”

Google “is a household word as much as ‘the blue e’ or that other OS,” blogger Robert Pogson argued. “Google Chrome OS is one more nail in the Wintel coffin. A networked OS no longer need be tied to any one corporation. Web applications and thin client computing are the future.”

‘They Will Ultimately Lose’

Google’s entry into the GNU /Linux space with Android and Chrome OS “are natural extensions of what people do on the web today,” Pogson told LinuxInsider. “What M$ does tying everything to one supplier with per-seat licensing is an unnatural use of the technology to funnel money to a single corporation. Google’s work accomplishes the commercialization of GNU/Linux in a very open manner.”

Not everyone is convinced Google has what it takes, however.

“Google is not a company with a track record of ever really finishing or building on what they start,” Bandrowsky asserted. “They tend to throw darts all over the place, and keep what sticks, but they don’t really build on things the way Microsoft does, and that is why they will ultimately lose.”

‘Significant Work to Do’

Either way, there’s no doubt “Google has significant work to do to convince the world Chrome is enough,” yagu concluded. “With their cloud offerings of what used to be PC applications (Office, etc.), maybe Chrome is enough. It will be interesting (and a little amazing) to see if Google can pull this off and come away with decent market share.”

It will also be interesting “to see if Chrome actually leapfrogs Linux in desktop market share,” yagu added. “In contrast to a fragmented Linux community, Google is focused and powerful, and it has lots of money and resources to commit to this kind of project. I hope it succeeds. The more competition all around, the better.”

‘Linux Has Changed the OS Markets’

If nothing else, the Chrome OS illustrates a trend that Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, has been expecting “for some time,” he said.

“The basic issue is that Linux has changed the OS markets in a number of important ways,” Travers told LinuxInsider. “It has reduced the overarching dominance of Microsoft (though not beaten it), and it has further opened competition in the CPU market.”

Furthermore, on the server side, “it has continued to weaken proprietary Unix,” Travers asserted.

“The next step is to recognize that we will inevitably see more variety in the markets for open source operating systems,” he predicted. “I expect growth in the *BSD flavors as well as new approaches to operating systems to become more viable, particularly in niche markets. Chrome OS seems to be a part of this trend.”

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