Last week, as a big surprise to some, but as a long-expected move to others Google announced that they would be releasing their own operating system.
There has been a lot of buzz in the past few days as a result, mostly about netbooks, about Microsoft, and (not surprisingly) about Linux.
It’s too early, I think, to be making a huge deal out of this. Let’s step back a bit and take a look at the situation.
Don’t Get Too Excited. There Are Barriers
Google Chrome OS is going to be largely centered around cloud computing, a concept which, while is cool, and has a lot of people talking, is still effectively in its infancy. Myriad problems present themselves as a barrier to widespread adoption right now, not the least of which are reliable connectivity and privacy concerns involved with having your data (or most of your data) in “the cloud”, particularly when a hefty chunk of that cloud is controlled by one single company (whether it’s a “don’t be evil” company or not).
These two are significant barriers right now, and don’t expect that either of those two is going to just magically disappear by 2010, when Google’s plans to release this OS come to fruition.
A third, and also not insignificant barrier to adoption is of course the one with which most of us Linux advocates are quite familar… Google Chrome OS is not Windows, and it will not run Windows applications.
You will not be able to install Quicken on it, you will not be able to install and run your favorite Windows games on it, and you obviously won’t be able to install whatever is in that big pile of software upon which you have spent so much money for your other Windows machines.
I know, many of us Linux types have answers to a lot of those little things, but keep in mind, dear reader, that most of the general public doesn’t care… the first question out of their mouths will be “does it run my programs?” and if the answer is “no”, they move on.
Why do you think there hasn’t been widespread adoption of Linux yet? Well, that’s the biggest factor, and Google has that to contend with, same as us. Granted, I don’t know that Linux has been pushed as hard as Google will be pushing Chrome OS.
According to an FAQ Google posted, they’re “working with a number of technology companies to design and build devices that deliver an extraordinary end user experience”.
That means that Google is going to achieve something out of the gate with their OS that Linux advocates would have loved to have seen for years: in all likelihood, they’re going to be able to get a big pile of OEMs to sell their hardware with Chrome OS preinstalled.
Don’t get me wrong here, those big barriers to adoption I mentioned are potential killers, all of them. But this is quite a coup, and if it reaches critical mass, those barriers won’t matter one bit.
So Is This Good Or Bad For Linux?
One of the things that has some peoples’ undies in a bundle is the chunk that this is going to take out of Linux’s bottom line. We’ve come a long way in the last five years, and we’re slowly but surely gathering momentum.
Ubuntu is preinstalled on netbooks, notebooks and desktop computers by one of the largest personal computer companies out there. Things that were big barriers for Linux in the past are now history… wireless hardware support, for one example. For another, there are now so many equivalent apps out there that unless you have need of some very proprietary functionality in an application, there are almost certainly apps out there in the Linux world that do what you need to do.
And some folks are crying foul, saying that Google’s new OS is going to bring all of that crashing down, particularly since the first place we’re going to see this OS is in the netbook market, a place where Linux actually has some small foothold in the OS arena.
I think that’s premature, and on some levels, it’s downright silly.
Think about it. If Google succeeds even moderately with this, their main target isn’t Linux, but Microsoft. And let’s be honest here… anyone that can manage to take a significant bite out of Microsoft’s ass will only serve to improve the situation for the rest of us in the Open Source community. If Google makes any measurable inroads at all, it’ll bring one sorely needed thing to the desktop OS market: competition.
Competition is good for everyone, even Linux. One main thing can be credited for all the progress Linux has made over the years. No, it isn’t Linus Torvalds, and it isn’t Red Hat, and it isn’t even Ubuntu.
It’s Microsoft. If it weren’t for MS dominating the market out there, Linux wouldn’t have to be this good. Love them or hate them, Microsoft has provided a lot of the motivation for Linux to grow, and that’s nothing if not a good thing.
Heck, the existence of Linux has even prompted Microsoft to grow, and change how they’re doing some things. Never discount the power of competition.
Google’s new OS has the potential to flip this current landscape onto its head, and that will be good for everybody, even if it takes a bite out of Linux’s bottom line in the short term. Think about it… this can’t “destroy” Linux. It’ll still be around. It isn’t going anywhere. And who knows… if Google manages to make MS flounder a bit in the process, that might mean that more people will be more open to another option, and that means more market share.
But this is all speculation, of course. We don’t know if Google Chrome OS is going to have any kind of measurable impact at all, on Microsoft OR on Linux. I do, however, think it’s way too early to get up in arms about it. Myself, I’ll be in “wait and see” mode until I know more, a LOT more. About Google’s plans for this, about what it’s going to be, how it’s going to work, and how the public is going to react.
And only time will tell us that.