Google recently announced the launch of their “Chrome OS“. The Linux-based desktop has been available for at least a year (codename) but for now Google considers it an “Operating System” and according to their marketing machine it will “eat the PC, destroy Microsoft and make every other OS meaningless”. The press love a good story about the world’s Number One brand taking on Microsoft.
Will this effect the exponential growth of Ubuntu, the worlds most popular Linux distribution? I think not. More likely, Google Chrome will become just another desktop variant of Ubuntu and it is Ubuntu which is swallowing all other Linux distros, as the original Gnu-Hurd strategy unfurls. As far as real world computing goes, Ubuntu has the better metaphor. The Ubuntu default Gnome desktop however, is far from being the better desktop. Competition in the Desktop environment has thankfully hotted up over the past months, so users can expect great advances in usability as well as Internet connectivity.
In fact 2009 could turn out to be the Year of the OS and 2010 the Year of the Desktop as Microsoft unveils Windows 7 and Ubuntu Karmic Koala hits the streets, now Google Chrome is also vying for our attention, alongside at least 20 other Linux-based desktops and 250 associated Linux “Operating systems”.
Both Linux and Ubuntu will benefit, regardless. Either way, the public will become more familiar with Linux and when you meet Linux, the long-time mainstay of geeks everywhere, you will realise exactly why Ubuntu cannot be beaten – not only is Ubuntu Open-Sourced, and based upon one of the most open and free distributions in the world – Debian - it has deployed Nelson Mandela’s Principle Number One, in defence of basic human rights when it comes to the computer.
How open to scrutiny will the Google Chrome Desktop eventually be? How safe will your information be, and what about privacy? I hesitate to give Chrome the kind of validity it demands, by calling it an OS or even a Universal Operating System, the kind of the accolade deserving of Debian. Exactly what kind of licensing conditions and what are the terms of agreement between user and the massive Google Corp?
Will Chrome users have the kind of freedom under the hood that Ubuntu offers? Or will Chrome become merely another means of corralling users, above the bare-bones kernel, into the kind of proprietary code-base dictatorship that has strangled Microsoft users and made Apple one of the most lucrative OS’ in the world?
For now, Chrome appears to be another high-minded open-source initiative that sees the ‘network as the computer’, distributed Operating systems like Plan 9 Inferno may offer benefits but at what cost in terms of overall control of the system, which can never be switched off? The move from Google towards the distributed OS and web-desktop environment is more a strategy of getting users to choose the “Google vision of the Internet” along with the “New Wave” of Web Apps than of offering anything new in the way of the Base operating system, which is needed to run the Web as well as the PC.
Short of printing circuits and offering Ubuntu on a Chip, there are a lot of ways Ubuntu could offer similar default integrations and Web Apps, in fact Karma is being touted as Cloud friendly, but with Gnome bloating out of proportion, users in the third world invariably loose out as Ubuntu heads North instead of South. In my mind, choosing a better window manager or another desktop session could provide users with a Chrome-like experience, straight out of the box. In fact, running Ubuntu without either Gnome or KDE has its benefits. I recently experimented with a bunch of Window Managers to see what kind of savings I could get in terms of Web experience and the results were startling.
Merely switching to LXDE or XFCE can speed up low-end machines while avoiding the ever-increasing resource demands and overhead of Gnome and KDE.
[This blog can reveal plans to create a bootable Indaba browser based upon Ubuntu. The new Indaba will be optimised with Mozilla, and run exclusively as a Net Computer. Indaba is the African word for dialogue or meeting.]
Whatever the outcome, Ubuntu will prevail in the long run. As I said, we have a better metaphor than Google. Some people will choose the Chrome desktop or switch over to Android because they want to be more integrated with the Google Vision. Others will choose Ubuntu because they want their machines to become more human and less alien-like.
I used to bandy this quote around quite a lot in the nineties, it applies to today’s technology:
“The problem with computers is, there is not enough Africa in them” — Brian Eno.
Ubuntu puts Africa in the computer. Something organic and environmentally-friendly, some would even say touchy-feely, which is absent from a lot of OS out there.
Before you blindly switch to Android or Chrome, realise that what you are doing is merely adopting another desktop option for Linux, and when you choose Linux, make sure it is Ubuntu.