The Google ChromeOS – Not the Linux messiah.

Yesterday was a busy day at the Googleplex. Google officially open-sourced the Chromium OS and also gave a preview of what to expect “this time next year.” Indeed, most of the rumors that had been going circulating in the blogosphere about what to expect were confirmed. You can read the full launch details from the Official Google Blog or take a look at this video. What I want us to look at is the possible impact it will have on the wider Linux market relative to the behemoth called Windows.
First of all, I strongly believe the ChromeOS is not a threat to Ubuntu (will talk about that in a later post)  as some people think, neither is it going to be the all powerful tour de force that most Linux proponents hail it to be. From what I can see, it is clear that Google is bringing Chrome for one simple reason: to get more people to use even more Google products and services. If you look at the recent spate of activities that have been going on at Google- the number of acquisitions, the talk of SPDY, the GO programing language among others-it is clear that ChromeOS is the means through which Google would get you to use more of their babies.
Though built on the Linux kernel, “it’s all about the web. All apps are web apps. The entire experience takes place within the browser and there are no conventional desktop applications. This means users do not have to deal with installing, managing and updating programs.” This then begs the question, will it be the Linux messiah? Will ChromeOS make 2010 the year of Linux? Looking at the desktop OS market dynamics, I can say no.
This is a purely web based OS, though you can argue that it’s a first. But other than that, I cannot see how it is going to help Linux make any significant market gains at the expense of Microsoft Windows. The OS is not going to be an all purpose thing as we are used to, it is going to reside in a browser (the Chrome browser of course) and probably put your stuff in the Google cloud infrastructure.  Is Google going to lock you in on their cloud services such that all your data would reside on their servers? Are you going to have a choice as to what service you want to run with your ChromeOS? How secure would it be (Google thinks it will be super)?
Linux is competing with Windows which is a desktop OS that runs applications locally on the OS, independent of the internet. I cannot foresee in the near future how people will be  willing to abandon  Windows in favor of Linux because ChromeOS runs in the cloud. I can also not foresee businesses switching to ChromeOS because it is from Google and runs on the web. In any case, the recent spate of Google server blackouts is a cause for concern.
Seriously, I think the concept is not bad but the application of it is the problem.
Given Google’s hopeless way of releasing applications (eg one year on and there is no Chrome browser ready for Linux), it will take a long time to get ChromeOS ready for the standard desktop computer. Seeing that there are more people that use desktop computers than netbooks- with that possibly staying so for a long time- ChromeOS will at best be an insignificant part of the market.
Linux will need a company the size of Google to make any noteworthy headway. But the way in which Google is going about its OS is surely not going to take Linux anywhere. I know ChromeOS is still in development, but from what I have read of ChromeOS, I think it is going to end up being a small player competing with the other 1000+ distros out there rather than Windows.

7 Replies to “The Google ChromeOS – Not the Linux messiah.”

  1. YOu have to remember that ChromeOS or Google OS… has 2 MAJOR technologies it is pushing.

    1) HTML 5… this includes canvas, video and audio tags to name a few. Already you can goto YOUTUBE and not use flash at all! You can use HTML5 video. This is powerful concept for making a lot of compelling we apps.

    3) Native Client (NaCl) This is what will make the browser able to play games, make PhotoShop replacements and any other app conceivable. The power of Native Client ( or potential of it ) can not be under estimated.

    Both of these technologies are Open Source and HTML5 is standardized across all the browsers. ( IE… well you need Google Frame.. but still it will work in Internet Explorer too )

    Secondly, what Google has right now now open for anyone to develop. It is all BSD licensed, which means any company can come in and leverage all this code and what not.

    But, more importantly, many MANY developers are becoming Web Developers. Microsoft is going to loss a lot of Developers, because more and more people are developing on the Web.

    Also, Ubuntu is making great strides. Also Google is hiring Ubuntu Developers ( or paying Canonical) for their expertise.

    Google has partnered with Kronos Group and supporting the push to make WebGL and openGL and all the GL's up to sniff with Direct x. For a long time OpenGL was stagnate and Direct x blew it out of the water.

    But, now OpenGL and WebGL will allow Browsers ANY browser, to play games and also the ability download EXE's and execute them using Native Client.

    ALL of this is under development. It is very much NOT ready and only just starting to gain momentum.

    People want to see is all built and done NOT. but, it takes time and time is all Google has…

    Not to mention all your data local is encrypted and if you loss your laptop/netbook it can be retrieved from the Cloud, and away you go. In traditional OS's you would have to restore all your data manually.

    Google's OS if going to be 'the people's OS' and google is just using it to market it on netbooks.

    but, there is going to be much hacking going on to make this Google OS based on Chrome + WebGL + HTML5 + Native Client a GAME CHANGER.

    Right now it is all in the works.

  2. Anonymous
    Thanks for the detailed technical perspective.However, I think Google ChromeOS is going to rather fill a new niche it will create rather than take up a significant market share of any of the existing platforms or OSs.

    One of the biggest challenges I foresee ChromeOS facing is hardware compatibility. From what I read in the launch blog posts from Google, it seems they would have to bless the hardware for it to run their baby. This then means that you cannot just download and run it on your current box. This is going to be a big hurdle in the initial stages of the OS.

    But like you said, it is still in development and we can only wait and see. I know this concept is revolutionary, but I still believe Google is going about it the wrong way. And neither is it going to help Linux in the long term.

  3. I agree that Google ( when they say will not support spinning Harddrives and only 'certified' wifi cards, etc ) is misleading.

    That is what 'GOOGLE' will support… but since this is all Open Source, and based on the Linux kernel, the drivers WILL get built. In fact, Linux already supports more hardware than any other OS, and so Google will leverage that.

    i think people need to look at Chrome OS from two perspectives.

    1) Google's perspective… they want to initially support Netbooks, and only use SSD Drives and hardware that is they can fine tune to make it SCREAM with speed.

    2) Open Source Community will morph it into ANY config they want. The way I see it… is that ChromeOS will spawn a whole new Breed of Distro which will support Desktop hardware, just like what we see with Ubuntu etc… but will be Chrome centric…

    Once Native Client and HTML5 are finalized, there is going to be a MASSIVE explosion of applications. And guess what? All of it will be able to run in ANY browser!

    This in my eyes is revolutionary. It is NOT just a browser, its a SUPER browser, again able to play games ( vai native client + webGL + HTML5 ) it will still support javascript, and flash and all exisinst web pages…

    Just the shift will be that most Apps will move to run in this next Gen browser with capabilities beyond links and imagines.

    AND… guess who owns it? no one.. which means EVERYONE can leverage it, write apps for it… it is just the Web and the Browser as the 'Main and Only Screen' Everything will be rendered in the Browser.

    Also, Local storage will be important just as important as putting it on the cloud so you can recover from crashes or theft.

    It is hard for a lot of people to fully 'grasp' what Google is doing here. Because there are so many parts to concider.

  4. I must say I find the concept of a web-based OS such as Google Chrome extremely exciting and a natural next step in OS technology.

    However, one has to keep in mind that the bandwidth and latency requirements of the Internet connection needed for running such an OS is not present in many parts of the world.

    Here in South Africa a (usually shaped) ADSL service with a 1GB cap per month still costs $15-$20 a month. Speed is also an issue. The National University of Lesotho got a 4MB/s line to share for the entire university.

    In such environments an OS such as Ubuntu works great, as the repositories of nearly all the software one would like to use can be mirrored on the local network (e.g. campus or business), and distributed locally for no cost to the user. From there one can mirror and sync a personal repository (~28GB for Ubuntu) onto a (now fairly affordable) portable hard drive.

    Still, one can not disregard the enormous potential of running applications online (especially the collaborative aspects for me personally).

    I believe what is necessary is an OS framework that allow applications to be run on the WWW if desired, but that can also be easily hosted on local networks within a university or business (in a similar manner to how local email servers work). I guess Google Wave is a step in this direction, as it allows locally hosted Wave servers that can communicate with other servers globally. Furthermore, it should also be possible to host and run the applications on a personal computer. Applications can then be "synced" when or if a connection to a larger network is present. Opera Unite is an interesting approach where the web server itself runs inside the browser.

  5. Matt
    I agree with you and also hope it turns out so. That the open source community takes the source code and turns it into something midway between the ChromeOS concept and the standard OS as we know it today. Also the advent of HTML 5 will be an interesting thing, giving the fact that some 'middlemen' apps like flash will no longer be a must to enjoy videos and other multimedia.

    I think Google needs to have less of outages if it is going to convince us to start living in the cloud.


    You exactly touched on one key reason I am not that much enthused about ChromeOS- Internet connectivity.

    If it is going to be a total online thing like I understand, then I can confidently say that most people in Africa and some parts of Asia will not be using it at all.

    Take for instance, the mobile broadband I use at home charges me approximately $50 for a 4GB cap. This is a tiny fraction of what I use at the office between 8 and 5. So how then can I use such an OS on my personal computer?

    I agree with you about the potential of such an OS or a concept thereof.

    It should be flexible enough to run both online and can also be easily hosted on local networks for syncing later with global servers.

    I think the perfect example of how ChromeOS should be like will be exactly as you said- Opera Unite. Other than that, I cannot see myself using it or recommending it to someone. It should be flexible enough to give users, especially those with the minimum connection to the internet the best of both worlds.

  6. "Chrome browser not available for Linux"??

    Google ChromeOS is a stripped down linux (<– this is the real OS) based on Debian, which opens a web browser (guess which one, Google Chrome), upon user login.

    So, to me, ChromeOS is not a new OS. It's just another Linux distro. And yes, Chrome runs on Linux.

    And why is ChromeOS' /etc/hosts having entries to What is btw?!

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