TechRadar confidently states that "Google Chrome OS is the company's first attempt at designing an operating system for more powerful computers [in contrast to Android]." This is an outright falsity. Google has already developed and deployed for internal use Goobuntu, a Linux distribution based on LTS versions of Ubuntu. It is supposedly used by up to half of Google's employees. Chrome OS is not a full Linux distribution, despite being based on the Linux kernel, and so it is likely a different beast entirely than Goobuntu. However, Google already has some years experience assembling the constituent pieces of an operating system.
In a way, Google is un-writing an operating system. Just as they billed Chrome Browser as having as minimal an interface and feature set as possible, it seems they're doing the same with Chrome OS. As Tech Crunch puts it, "What Google is doing is not recreating a new kind of OS, they're creating the best way to not need one at all." Instead of beginning with all the common assumption about the diverse environment that an operating system must be able to support, Google seems to be starting at the end object, web apps, and building backwards only what's necessary to support that end.
Netbooks are an emerging class of light-weight, low power, portable computers designed for shitheads. These machines are Google's initial target market. Chrome OS is not targeted at smaller internet-capable devices—smart phones, PDAs, and the like. For that, Google is remaining committed to the Android platform, a wholly separate project ostensibly.
The netbook fad may not last long enough for Google to actually ship Chrome OS. If this OS had been released alongside Vista—which was grossly unsuitable for low power mobile computers—it might have burned through the netbook sector like wildfire. But now it's not clear that either netbooks as a distinct hardware category or the mismatch between Microsoft's OS offerings will exist in a year's time. Crunch Gear opines:
Netbooks are going the way of the Dodo and the race to the bottom will cause them to disappear, replaced by more powerful ultralights that will fill out the middle of the laptop market. These ultralights will be running Windows 7, not Chrome.
Fake Steve Jobs makes a similar point:
[T]he netbook market is fucking tiny and will remain so forever. According to IDC, there were 11 million netbooks sold last year, and by 2013 that figure will hit 39 million. The market for PCs and laptops will be 10 times that size – literally – at 400 million units. Smartphones will be over 300 million units. So, um, you guys at Google want to have a dog fight with Microsoft to get a few points of that market? Go have fun. Seriously. Knock yourself out. Frankly, if the entire netbook market caught fire, I wouldn't piss on it to put it out. But that's just me.
Of course, Google is not only targeting netbooks: "for people who spend most of their time on the web, [Chrome OS] is being designed to power computers ranging from small netbooks to full-size desktop systems." An entry on their Chrome OS FAQ lists the range of device manufacturers that Google is working with: "Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments." While this demonstrates a pretty wide range of potential device capabilities, Dell is a gaping absence.
Chrome OS is a piece of leverage for OEMs, although they likely do not care much about Chrome OS in itself. Dell already offers Linux, and Walmart tried Lindows while it could. But no one's rushing to ditch Windows, especially not with the widely anticipated Windows 7 on its way.
However, Chrome OS allows OEMs to push back on Windows pricing. OEMs can never get rid of Windows, but each and every one has an interest in reducing the price of Windows (i.e. the 'Windows tax'). With a rival operating system built to run on the same hardware backed by a fellow multi-billion dollar corporation, OEMs can start trimming the fat off of Microsoft's margins.
Fake Steve Jobs puts it more eloquently:
The only people who are pushing for this are the hardware OEMs and ODMs and they're only doing it so they can get a bargaining chip on the Borg. They don't want to use Chrome, or Android, or Linux. They want Windows. They just don't want to pay for it. Whatever Microsoft wants to charge for Windows 7, the hardware guys want to pay less. Hang the threat of yet another OS over Ballmer's shiny head and maybe he'll bring down his prices. That, anyway, is the thinking. Happened already in netbooks when they first came out with Linux on the Anus EEEEEPC – that rang some bells up in Redmond, believe me.
It's unlikely that Microsoft will take this lying down. Ballmer already announced a Cloud operating system which actually turned out to be Azure Services Platform. But if Google thinks that Microsoft can't rush a shitty Cloud OS out the door within a 18 months, and then browbeat and threaten OEMs with all varieties of ills, then Google is naïve.
Netscape Google versus Microsoft
According to the New York Times,
In a recent interview, Marc Andreessen, who created the first commercial Web browser and co-founded Netscape, said Chrome itself was already well along that path.
"Chrome is basically a modern operating system," Mr. Andreessen said.
Of course, Mr. Andreessen is in an ironic position to comment on the matter, given his own past predictions for Netscape:
"The only difference technically between Netscape's Navigator browser and a traditional operating system is that Navigator will not include device drivers, Andreessen said." —PC WEEK, 6/17/1996
As we all recall, Microsoft saw Netscape as threatening its core business, the operating system. They figured turnabout was fair play. In response they licensed Spyglass's Mosaic code, churned out a steady stream of Internet Explorer releases until they hit the sweet spot with versions 3 and 4. The browser wars were on, and Netscape got handled.
A Washington Post blogger astutely notes that Google's announcement might just as well be called "Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's Revenge." Judge Jackson presided over most of United States v. Microsoft, and wrote a 'Findings of Fact' that outlined the browser as middleware, making the underlying operating system largely irrelevant to the applications running within the middleware. Judge Jackson was removed from the case in 2001 for biased conduct.
The two titans now clash along six fronts:
- Search: Google vs. Bing
- Documents: Docs vs. Office
- Messaging: Gmail/Talk vs. Hotmail/MSN
- Mobile: Android vs. Windows Mobile
- Browsing: Chrome vs. Internet Explorer
- OS: Chrome OS vs. Windows
Following Microsoft's standard playbook, whenever a threatening project with prospects is announced by a rival corporation, Microsoft soon thereafter makes an announcement of a vaporware product that will do basically the same thing. This inoculates against users living within the Microsoft plantation from considering leaving for the rival's product. True to themselves, Microsoft is making a major announcement Monday.
Of course, there's already speculation about Microsoft's previously announced Gazelle browser, a browser that's designed from the ground up to act more like an operating system than a user-space application. Clearly, a Bing OS would be a major coup for Redmond.
Finally, given the recent European Commission ruling that bundling Internet Explorer with Windows was anti-competitive, forcing Microsoft to offer Windows without a browser, one wonders if a Chrome OS offering in Europe is obviated from the get go. Or will Google's behavior get Microsoft off the hook?
Obviously, the Linux community is up in arms about this announcement. There is nothing worse than a major new free open source operating system running the Linux kernel backed by a multibillion dollar company with the willingness to take on Microsoft's core competencies. It's hard to imagine how Linux enthusiasts can recover from such a body blow to their project.
Netbooks have been a growth area for Linux (sometimes more anticipated than actual). Linux, starved as always for a place on the desktop, will now face a competitor in the same space at the same low low price of nothing.
Renee LeMay at CNet captures this mood of dismay almost as convincingly as a genuine Slashdot poster:
"Not another Linux distribution," they'll cry.
They'll say this because if there is one problem that the Linux and open-source community has suffered repeatedly over the past two decades, it's been fragmentation.
Now, over the past few years, some of us had begun to believe that we could see a bright light forming at the end of that confused and heterogeneous tunnel. Out of the ferocious Linux distribution wars, one contender has emerged with the seeming strength to take on the rest—at least when it comes to the Linux desktop platform.
I speak, of course, of Ubuntu.
In this context, 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.
Instead of treading its own path, Google should have sought to leverage the stellar work already carried out by Shuttleworth and his band of merry coders and tied its horse to the Ubuntu cart.
If Google truly wants to design a new "windowing system on top of a Linux kernel," there should be nothing to stop the search giant from collaborating openly with the best in the business. I'm sure Linus Torvalds would have something strongly worded to say about Google's plans to "completely redesign" the underlying security architecture of Linux.
What a bizarre feeling of entitlement Linux enthusiasts feel.
InformationWeek's analysis holds that Microsoft will not be the big loser, rather the Linux community will be the big loser (as if they weren't already fat losers):
Chrome OS potentially strengthens Microsoft, by sowing confusion among the Linux competition.
It's hard to take this seriously, as no one in their right mind conceived of Linux as a threat to the desktop, nor did anyone characterize the Linux community as anything other than a disorganized fractious mess. Chrome OS poses no threat to the Linux community, because they never had a chance on the desktop and they were never organized, despite Shuttleworth's millions.
Comfortably immune to any hype but their own, Steve Jobs and Tim Cook think that netbooks are embarrassingly shit products and that the people who want to buy netbooks should not be allowed to give their money to Apple.
Idiots believe that Google's move into the OS market will lead to war between Apple and Google. This makes no sense, as Apple will never compete for commodity machines or for customers who refuse to pay for products.
The only likely outcome of Chrome OS for Apple in the short to medium term is the exit of Eric Schmidt. Apple has three legs to its business (and one hobby): Mac, iPod, iPhone (and TV). Schmidt already had to recuse himself from board meetings on the iPhone due to the conflict of interest concerning Android. Now he'd have to recuse himself from board meetings on Mac topics as well. It's unlikely he'll stay around to be a board member solely for iPod topics. (Also shared between Apple and Google is Arthur Levinson, who will undoubtedly share the same fate as Schmidt.)
I do feel bad for Steve Jobs, who has managed to ship an OS that, version after version since 10.2, is held to be better, safer, and more beautiful than Microsoft's concurrent offering. All of a sudden Google announces a vaporware OS that's over a year out, and bloggers are suddenly gushing about how they "never thought I'd see the day when a company made a frontal assault on Microsoft's core business." Seriously? Are you fucking kidding me? OS X? Safari? iWork? ::tap:: ::tap:: Hello, is this thing on?
Given the already egregious extent to which Google tracks and stores every piece of data that it can possibly obtain from its users, it seems wholly logical that the same level of surveillance capabilities will be built into the Chrome OS. Advertising will increasingly to target you with ever more presumptuous accuracy.
In an article titled "Chrome OS, Huh? Will It Be Based on a Google Analytics Kernel?", an AllThingsDigital blogger writes,
The privacy implications are, of course, horrendous. And while Google will inevitably dismiss such concerns as paranoid and argue that any data the company might collect at the OS level will be used only to improve its services and benefit users, it should still give us all pause. Because when it is finally launched, Chrome OS will be yet one more deep well of consumer data to which Google will have access. …Lest we forget, Google is in the behavioral targeting business. Why would people ever use an OS developed by a company whose business is based on meticulously recording and analyzing their online behavior?
It's pretty clear that prior Google projects will play building blocks roles in the upcoming Chrome OS.
Gears will be an essential mechanism, allowing users to run web apps and manipulate locally stored information in the absence of an internet connection.
O3D allows web apps to access a machine's graphics card, such that "interactive 3D applications" can be built with hardware acceleration.
Ars Technica speculates on the emergence of a previously rumored 'gDrive' service to provide storage and backup.
Chrome OS: 'The Cloud Operating System'
People who talk about The Cloud with authority are marketers or self-appointed internet gurus whose ignorance wildly surpasses their knowledge and who get paid by the buzzword. Any article about Chrome OS that tries to tie it to a broader point-of-view regarding 'cloud computing' should be ignored with prejudice.
Before The Cloud was a buzzword, Oracle had invented 'thin client' as a buzzword. Not to be outdone, Sun invented 'the network is the computer' as a buzzphrase. Before those buzzwords, there were actually networked graphical terminals, but only graybeards in university basements used them. There are dozens of related buzzwords that I am missing, and there will come dozens of new buzzwords to replace The Cloud. Do not bother learning about The Cloud or thinking about Chrome OS in terms of The Cloud, because The Cloud will be gone before Chrome OS arrives, replaced by another fatuous marketing slogan.
ZDNet asks, "Have people taken leave of their senses?"
Dispassionate and unimpressed, Dave Winer puts things in perspective:
But did any of the reporters take a quiet moment to reflect on the basic question: What Just Happened? If they had, they would have been hard-pressed to find anything actually had happened, other than a press release.
Let's be dispassionate. Before yesterday's announcement: 1. Chrome ran on Linux. 2. Linux was an operating system. 3. Linux ran on netbooks.
However, most people want XP on their netbook, not Linux. That was true yesterday and it's still true today.