(image credit: boomerang)
The author of a recent Slate article had a lot of discouraging things to say about Google's new OS and the Linux kernel underneath it, and that's putting it mildly. (The article is titled "The Google OS Is Doomed.") It seems to me that many of the criticisms look to the past rather than the future in attempting to answer the important questions about an OS that has yet to be introduced to the public. The questions being asked are related to important topics, but perhaps they are being asked a bit early. It seems to me that adoption of a "classic" software industry perspective on the issue is inadequate to made any prediction about this unreleased and unseen software, let alone a prediction about its impending doom.
My first issue with the article is pretty much the entirety of the author's first point, Linux is hard to love. The process he describes for getting an iPod Touch to work is totally correct, but it is a poor reflection of the typical high level of support that most hardware currently has in Linux. You don't need to be a "server ninja" to get a Linux desktop up and running...really. Linux will run on almost anything. Really -- ask people who spent time with it. Today, my computer-retarded uncle has used Linux for close to a year without problems. He has kids who were only Fluent in Windows, but quickly learned to navigate the Gnome Desktop Environment. Because of this, I'm confident that almost anyone can successfully use Linux today. Further, in a year's time, Linux Desktops may be even more simple -- more user-friendly. The "dearth of hardware and software" he mentions is not really true, but he's still basing his point around a bad experience with the newest incarnation of a for-profit company's latest [proprietary and very much closed] operating system. What do you expect? He could have talked about any of the many things that Linux does quite well with respect to hardware and software support, but didn't. He chose a very specific, though admittedly important, case.
Later, he mentions the incredible amount of money Google makes from advertising, and how this frees them to invest in other projects that may or may not be profitable (like YouTube, which, from a business perspective, is a nightmare). Due to the importance of this project, Google isn't likely to be taking a half-assed approach to the project, like they did with, say, Lively. The resources and engineering talent that Google can direct toward the Chrome operating system could quickly solve the interoperability problems that Farhad brings up. Consider the significant contributions that Google made to Wine in the interest of getting some of their software (e.g. Picasa) to work on Linux. Wine recently hit 1.0. I'm really not trying to overstate the contributions Google has made to open source software projects -- just asking that we consider that they may be willing to devote unprecedented resources to their Linux-based operating system to solve many of their own problems, which, due to the GPL, would necessarily benefit the community. I'd be surprised if the operational scope of the operating system was so narrow as to not allow us to use our new iPods on it.
The author mentions that Linux's tiny market share is a reflection of its inability to catch on. He should consider, first, the fact that with few exceptions, Linux distributions are created and maintained by enthusiasts, and in a few rare cases, fairly successful companies such as Red Hat and Novell. But Christ, the open source desktop universe has never had the support of a company like Google before.
He's absolutely right that we aren't ready to run everything on the web. But so what if we're not? This operating system is targeted toward netbook users, and a lot of the things we do on Netbooks can be done in Linux anyway. Seriously. Just ask people in the netbook community. Also: who said this was all about running everything on the web? We still haven't seen the Chrome OS.
Lastly, we should consider that Google may not be out to profit directly from this "business venture," if you want to call it that. The launch of this new operating system will undoubtedly have a transformative quality on the industry. To think that Microsoft isn't going to respond to this announcement in a way that somehow changes their output, is naive. If the response is a better operating system from Microsoft, Google has not failed. If the response is somehow more radical (e.g., microsoft open sourcing some of its software or giving it away for free, while simultaneously improving products to compete with offerings from apple and google), then everyone may benefit from the change. You could say I totally agree with Farhad when he says the only point of Chrome is to screw with Microsoft, but I see more of a point to it all. Also, I don't see Bing as an attempt by Microsoft to screw with Google. I think Microsoft is scrambling to hold on to anything new it can do well -- and Bing appears to be doing pretty well, as it is, by some accounts, the 2nd most popular search engine in the world -- as the software world changes, because they clearly won't be able to dominate it for too much longer. Who is it that's really "doomed" here?
PS - If Chrome is fast, I'm pretty sure all of these arguments will become irrelevant and a surprising number of netbook users will switch.