All that glistens could be Chrome


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Jul 10, 2009 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

A lot of people have been writing about Google's Chrome OS. There is a lot of speculation going on that Chrome will hurt the current distributions of Linux, and therefore will somehow help Microsoft.

What are these people smoking?

First of all I do not believe that Chrome OS will meet the needs of every desktop user any more than I believe that Microsoft meets the needs of any desktop user. There are many tasks where a browser working on a thin client will not have the capabilities to do the processing needed, and therefore stand-alone clients will be used.

Likewise not everyone is connected to a server with the high speed Internet that desktops like Chrome OS would need to be effective. There are many people who are still using dial-up systems, even in countries like the United States.

I think that Chrome OS will find a huge marketplace, that is true. That the huge marketplace could have been filled with desktops based on a more traditional Linux-based distribution is also true. On the other hand there are only about one billion desktops currently in the world, and there are 6.3 billion people, so I think there is plenty of "desktops" to go around.

Secondly, as Chrome starts to fill these desktops (let's say Chrome OS claims two billion of them), the number of device manufacturers who finally take the Linux kernel seriously and devise free software device drivers will probably grow exponentially. These device drivers will be compatible with the Linux kernels on our desktops, servers, phones and other Linux-based devices. The fact that Google has not released line one of Chrome OS code, and vendors are already lining up to support it gives an indication that in the near future we will see tiny penguins gracing the boxes of every peripheral device out there.

Third, a lot of the current Linux distributions concentrate a lot of their work on servers and server scalability. Having a lot of Linux-based Chrome OS systems out there to work with those Linux-based servers keeps the code in the same family.

People say that the programming interface will be different and this will cause ISVs to split whether they support "traditional Linux" or Chrome OS and that the Chrome OS will cause software developers not to write programs for "traditional Linux". Google says that their software will be freely distributed, and will follow standards. Why couldn't these interfaces be added to "traditional Linux" and allow both "traditional" and "Chrome OS" applications to operate on the same platform? People, we have been here before, and our favorite operating system has adapted well.

I think the people who are spreading the FUD that Chrome OS will hurt Linux have not thought this through, and just as Android kept more people from using closed operating systems on top of cellular telephones, Chrome OS will keep more people from using closed operating systems on top of the desktop. Or these people are just Microsoft supporters in disguise.

More importantly, Chrome OS will help to close the "device gap" for Linux Kernel based systems, and that will have to be a win for the good guys.


  • All that Glistens

    Jack the Mack,

    I thought I was fairly clear in my article why I thought Chrome OS was good for the Linux community. One of the main reasons was device driver creation.

    Today the Linux kernel has a small percentage of the desktop market worldwide compared to Microsoft. Companies that provide peripherals for desktops and notebooks provide drivers for MS Windows first, and then (perhaps) for Linux. Their incentives for updating that code over time are small, due to the volumes.

    Chrome OS will change that.

    And yes, I want to see penguins on the boxes of desktop and notebook computers and peripherals just as I see MS Windows emblems today.

    As to "root access on Android", I will point out that Google published all the source code for Android under an Open Source license. The root access issue was a part of their security model. That model was implemented by their carriers and their device manufacturers. The T-Mobile G1, for instance, had a SIM tied to the carrier (T-Mobile), and used a signed boot image (HTC/T-Mobile).

    Google offered an unlocked, unsigned phone through their developer's program ($25 to join, and worth it).
    If lack of root access really bothers people that much, the first place to start is by getting one of those phones, or buying one of the Openmoko phones and putting Android on it.

  • Source code

    So Daniel, you surely are the one to decide what an "open platform" is. What the heck would you do with the source code? I mean, how many kernel developers are out there anyway? At least several people have a different view than you, for instance Harald Welte or Pavel Machek.
  • Chrome OS

    I think this is a great anouncement for Gnu/Linux, and more importantly for the users. Having huge companies like Intel/Google (Gootel? will bring much more benefits than harm in the long run. Currently the distributions are lacking quality with it's drivers, most importantly the audio ones. (I've personaly tried 3 sound cards, all them have problems and it's a headache to get it half-fixed). Having those two giants at it's side will encorage the smaller companies to support Gnu/Linux.
  • Open Platform?

    "where you everything but an "open platform" (you can't get root privileges on an Android phone, you know that, do you?)."

    What?! What root privileges have to do with an open platform? Open platform only means "source code avaliable". Geez
  • What are you smoking anyway?

    What's your point? Linux proliferation above all? What's your point against Microsoft? It being a bad Monopoly? What about Google then? Is it really so great to have Linux everywhere if it's in an Android way where you everything but an "open platform" (you can't get root privileges on an Android phone, you know that, do you?). Or are you so detached from reality that you just don't know or care for details like that?
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