Friday, November 20, 2009

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.

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By Seraaj Muneer with 7 comments

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