Google Chrome OS. Or, how to miss the shot.

November 25, 2009

Recently there was a lot of noise regarding the new coolest guy on the street: Google Chrome OS. I was traveling and just today I could read all my feeds, emails and put everything on the right place :)

Some people talked about it but I usually don’t pay attention or even read some articles but unluckily I was doing some reviews of Palm Pre, the new Zune and other devices and it’s software and for some reason I landed in the article of Free Software Magazine regarding Google Chrome OS and how KDE and GNOME shot each other on the head. I really don’t pay attention to any flame wars or trolls and usually just ignore these topics as they don’t take us anywhere. But this one got my attention (unluckily, again).

I’m writing about it for a few reasons: first the (lack) of technical background present in the article (I really don’t know the author and I’m not judging his technical skills besides the ones shown in the article), second due the fact of being a “Free Software” magazine (as it points out in the domain name at least) and third due the fact that people just love hype :).

First Act

Let’s talk about technical facts. If I remember correctly the author says that Chrome OS will use a “GNU/Linux” kernel. There is no such thing. The kernel is Linux: period. If it will use a GNU/Linux system is another history. Then there is this talk about Pulseaudio and this is a “hot topic” in the Linux audio system world.

There are people who like it and (from what I hear everyday in mailing lists and IRC channels) more people who doesn’t like it. Personally I don’t use it as I don’t have the need and my distro (slackware) does not ship it by default. The excuse of the author for the fact that Chrome OS was not using GNOME/KDE and/or GNU Linux was that none of them provides what Google wants and because there were too many options and none of them was good enough. If none of them is good enough I’ll let for the reader to decide about it but that is not why Google didn’t use it.

First of all Chrome OS will have the help of Canonical to build it’s stuff so probably behind the Webkit stuff that the user will see as the “workspace” it will just be a regular Linux distribution (probably Ubuntu based) behind the scenes. In the end it is a GNU/Linux based system.

One could argue about Android not using a GNU/Linux based system and people often confuse Android with Chrome OS (even Google doesn’t have an answer for it yet and Googlers says that probably in the future they will converge to the same thing). Android not using GNU/Linux is true and they don’t even use some common systems like HAL to handle hardware making some (ugly?) hacks to do what HAL would solve out of the box for them. But I understand their side and probably they had reasons to do that (dead lines, licenses, etc…).

Well, I’ll not talk about Google’s work right now. They are doing their job in the sense that they are presenting the world a new way of looking at the desktop. But some arguments like: “there are too many ‘desktops’ libraries” and this is due the fact GNU/Linux has two different desktop environments are just…how can I say…ah! these are arguments that comes from people with no technical background. I don’t write about economic stuff, do you know why ? Because I surely have an opinion, but I don’t have the technical background to write about it and I’ll probably just create more noise and confuse people instead of helping them understand something.

I’ll not extend myself more on this section as it can get too long: but arguments saying that applications have dependencies of .so and this is harmful to the user and proposing solutions that are already out there in ANY Linux distribution (bundle of libraries are packages and it’s dependencies if anybody has questions regarding this), etc.. just make noise and have no technical background.

Sometimes journalists/bloggers are the ones that write about everything without knowing anything and this leads to at least confusion.

Second act

I’m not sure if everybody knows that but Google is just arriving at Free Software world (as much other companies, like Nokia for example). The first approach of Google was being open source friend but not free software. And there is a huge difference.

Thanks to many people Google is changing this and becoming closer and closer to free software with initiatives such as Google Summer of Code, when they fund students to work on free software projects and much other initiatives.

But the point is that a “Free Software” magazine has an article attacking the free software community (I say attacking because there is no constructive feedback or review inside an article without technical background). Ok, you may be thinking that I’m beating too much in the “technical background” key, but even from the user’s point of view there are almost no valid arguments there besides the fact that we need to improve sound on Linux (big news here ;)).

So, we have a free software magazine, pushing a non free software initiative and talking about non sense stuff. Google has a great product on it’s hands and no doubt about it. But come on: if you want to compare KDE, GNOME and Chrome Workspace do it the proper way.

Third Act

Hype. It’s all about hype. Google Wave was the brand new silver bullet in the world. Everybody that is not a fan boy and seriously tried to used it know what I’m talking about. But the hype was so big because it was a Google’s product (and usually Google has great products) that everybody started creating use cases, theories and etc.. just due to that. No real use case, no real innovation. Just hype.

Again, Google has great products: GMail, Google Docs, Google Analytics, Google AdSense/AdWords, etc… But sometimes people start talking and expecting things just because of the hype. Trolls and fan boys are species that walks together in the world.

The same is happening with Chrome OS here. It’s not ready yet but people are already saying that it will be the best thing ever. Or even that very solid COMMUNITIES and the software around them are dead just because in one year somebody will bring a new product.

Examples from the past ? ‘Virtual reality’ (being used on browsers with VRML and videogames with those horrible goggles), ‘Java Applets’ (who don’t remember it being the final solution for dynamic web pages ???) or even ‘Director’ who was the killer application for multimedia stuff and would kill Flash ?

Final Act: Summary

Let’s just calm down and learn with each other. Gnome and KDE learned a lot of things with each other and with it’s own communities, Linux and the GNU/Linux distributions too.

Google has great products and can really create expectations on it’s users. Google search, maps, Android…all great products but all of them (as any other software) have problems and bugs (anyone using GMail’s imap?).

So please, for the next ones writing about the brand new thing that will kill all the others out there, calm down, write your opinion but just don’t start saying that projects are going to die if you don’t have any clue about it and don’t start guessing stuff. Want to write a user review ? Write it as a user review and about what is bad (maybe what is good too). But writing guessing articles tending to be a user review but pretending to be a technical article is not good for anybody.

Avoid shooting yourself in the foot.

17 Responses to “Google Chrome OS. Or, how to miss the shot.”

  1. The whole problem is about the fan boys and the huge hype regarding everything that Google creates. I hate when people start thinking and saying that everything is doomed just because Google decided to create something. I know that they have good products, but it’s terrible to know that they are actually just starting to learn how to work with open source.

    If a company plays with open source the right way, no one will be damaged because it’d be a natural evolution and it won’t exclude the others. And this is something that the fan boys just ignore.

    Basically, nothing to see here, move along.

  2. I hate people crying about Linux and GNU/Linux difference. The truth is, no one cares about it, so get over it.

  3. >If I remember correctly the author says that Chrome OS will use a “GNU/Linux” kernel. There is no such thing. The kernel is Linux: period.

    Every operating system has a kernel. So if there is a operating system called GNU/Linux than there is a “GNU/Linux kernel”, like there is a “Windows kernel”, “MacOS kernel”, “FreeBSD kernel”,…
    Of course the “GNU/Linux kernel” has a name, his name is “Linux”.

    *SCNR*

  4. @Fazer: I don’t think you understood what I said: the whole thing is not about Linux and GNU/Linux. But the fact that the guy is mixing the concept of a whole linux distribution and it’s kernel.

  5. @pinky: well, It’s just a matter of how you see things. I don’t agree with your point of view. There is the kernel that the operating system uses but that does not define it. And the problem with the original article is that it mixes the concept of linux distribution and linux kernel.

  6. I think Google in fact tries to dictate us what to do with our data.

    BTW, why don’t you mention in your post that the very core of Google desktop – WebKit comes from one of most active open-source communities – KDE?

    In fact, the story is quite a simple one – Google is trying to be the Web itsef. To do that, you need not only a major control over internet search, you also need to control user’s tool. So, that is the reason why google rolls out that pretty dumb Chromium OS.

    And the idea of absent hard drive is also quite stupid – in an essence Google wants to decide for me what software do I want. It is just fricken contrary to what free software is and aims to.

  7. Google main business IS advertising, they work on work of mouth and hype but they need secrecy to plan their next buzz. Not a easy (or doable) thing to do in open source.

    I see Chrome OS as a catalyst to a new way to access the interwebs. Not that I like the situation, but many arent interested to use a computer. Things like Macs and PCs are complex and difficult to setup.

    Androids netops are not computers. Their are terminals. It’s big ass cheap iPhones. Except Apple allows you to write software for the iPhone. They are that $99 device you can use to go to facebook while cooking, that disposable thing you got free with a new credit card. Everything is signed, there is an undestructible bootlader with an idiot-proof recovery system. There is no terminal, control panel or setting. No drivers.

    Nice concept. I would rather like the new generation to understand these devices as much as we did, but…

  8. I agree with the part about hype. Google Chrome OS *is* all hype right now, which doesn’t mean it won’t succeed. We just don’t know. Regardless, right now it’s pure hype and I’m not at all impressed.

    Also, you seem to be stem most of your argument from the premise that Toby Mobily, the author of that article, missed the point from a technical standpoint. I agree with you–albeit for what I think are different reasons.

    Tony’s analysis was entirely based on pure economics. He attempted to infer the reasons behind Google’s choices regarding their new OS and, based on his conclusion, blame KDE and GNOME unwillingness to merge.

    His error was on the conclusion on which he grounded his whole argument, of course. Google did not choose not to use either KDE or GNOME because of “too much choice”, although there’s something to be said about that. They chose to go down a different path because for what Google wants, neither KDE nor GNOME is suited.

    You see, Google is not looking to compete with Windows or Mac on the desktop. They’re looking for something else, something to make you use the web more. They want to make you move your stuff into the cloud. They’re not hiding this from anyone and they’re even conceding that this won’t be for everyone. And they’re looking for a very specific market: netbooks. Google even says they expect the ChromeOS-based netbooks to be *secondary* devices, for crying out loud. They couldn’t make it clearer than that.

    Now Tony makes the case that if both the KDE and the GNOME projects had joined hands at some point in the past and effectively ended the macédoine of Linux application and desktop environment choices, Google would have chosen that utopian “Knome” environment for sure. This argument simply ignores the whole point of Google.

    Google doesn’t need–nor want, for that matter–a desktop environment. Both KDE and GNOME are essentially irrelevant and obsolete to Google.

  9. Anyone that says Google’s making Chrome OS because KDE/Gnome are inferior really hasn’t been listening that much.

    Google currently generates revenue entirely from websites with advertisements on them: sponsored links. However, at the moment the only thing on the internet seems to be data, or information depending on how you look at it. This is Google’s attempt to get everyone to use the internet for more then just data/information: they want you to put all your documents, and now even all your applications in a web browser, letting them get their advertisements to greater audiences and charge larger amounts of cash from companies for it.

    (Warning: off-topic ahead)
    However, this ideal doesn’t appeal to me at all: through using KDE/Linux, I’ve learned that I would much prefer all that information to come to my desktop. Example: I barely ever visit the Twitter homepage now, since I have a twitter widget on my desktop. For more advanced stuff, I use Choqok. My hope is that, in the future, Choqok will support the Facebook timeline as well, because Facebook Chat is in Kopete: another reason not to visit the website, which tries to do too much all in one window. In the future, I also hope that, for example, Akonadi resources can be made for Flickr and Facebook photos (though I’m not sure that’s what Akonadi was for at all), so that I can browse and manage my facebook/flickr photos, and even possibly my friends’ facebook/flickr photos, in Gwenview. Document creation wouldn’t move to the web-browser to become collaborative: collaborative editing would come to the desktop, possibly through the ODF specification (so that I can collaborate in KOffice with someone else using OpenOffice.org). Online video searching would move into a desktop client – there’s currently Miro, sure – but preferably, it would go in the universal video viewer: Dragon viewer, in my case.

    In my perfect desktop, the web-browser is the LEAST important application: all the things you use the web-browser for would come to desktop applications directly. Is that just me, or does anyone else think it’s a better approach as well?

  10. @the_madman: yep, I fell this too. That’s why I think the project Silk from KDE will help us a lot on this matter.

  11. I don’t see ho Google creating chrome OS could be taken as an implied criticism of KDE or Gnome. They are trying to create an entirely different beast, a netbook-optimised web-desktop, over which they want complete control.

    They want everyone to live on the web so they are removing everything else from the desktop environment. Whether or not it is a good idea it is Google’s vision and one completely separate to KDE or GNOME.

  12. @maninalift: agreed. That’s my point. So there is no point in saying that Google didn’t choose KDE/GNOME due to it’s “weakness” or mess.

  13. I think a lot miss the point of Chrome OS also being aimed primarily at “Netbooks”. It’s a small fast OS that is perfect for the netbook, it is not going to replace a desktop system or have the ability to run the programs a desktop can and has to run.

    The hype tbh from what I’ve seen and read fits well with the netbook idea and tbh there isn’t anyone be it linux or otherwise that caters “solely” to netbooks. We have version’s of ubuntu and other distro’s that cater for it but they are not solely on that platform. I think this is where Google are aiming it. They so far have used netbooks as the only platform running “Chrome OS”.

    The whole GNU/Linux made me giggle tbh. The quicker people learn they are two totally different thing’s the better. I think the whole GNU/Linux thing actually get’s misunderstood because of GNU using the Linux kernel rather than their own spin at the moment.

  14. Cool article! There is only small correction: Macromedia Director actually was the king of multimedia BEFORE Flash even existed. It existed since 1988, or 1984, if you count VideoWorks. I know, I used it :) And still do. Macromedia then bought Flash when it was called FutureSplash, at version 1.0, around 1995. By this time Director was already at version 5. Both continue to thrive in parallel, but in the recent years the focus has shifted completely to Flash, with several developers formerly in the Director team going to the Flash team, and implementing there some of the best concepts of the software.

  15. Timeline at http://www.lingoworkshop.com/Articles/history.php

  16. “Let’s talk about technical facts. If I remember correctly the author says that Chrome OS will use a “GNU/Linux” kernel. There is no such thing. The kernel is Linux: period.”

    1. That is one biggest mistake what we can see. People believe that Linux is just a short version of GNU/Linux, because GNU/Linux is so hard to say. That is just such a excuse without any technical valid point.

    2. Then there is this one biggest believe that operating system is always kernel + something else. That is just 100% false believe without any technical truth.

    Many do not know the history of operating systems. Their meaning to exist and different technics how we can build them. Is the reason for that that people wants to believe or does not care at all what is the truth, how the stuff (software, machine, life.. you name it) works.

    [...snippet...] (Edited due the fact that it was just copy&paste from a lot of sources and come on ;) who do you want to fool here ?)

    PS. Those people who does not care or say that people should stop whining. They do not have any ideas what they talk about and they are just like people who does not vote on elections and afterwards blame people who did vote wrong people in charge. If you do not care what is happening around you, you can not do anything more than blame your self and shut up. Those are not mens enough to find the truth and care about the truth and other people.

  17. Man, it gets me tired of following author’s train of thought when I managed to finish the “first” section.

    Anyhow, I don’t think I am a good writer or anything like that. But please, establish what you wanna say first, then try to prove it in the following sections.

    Or maybe I just need sleep. :)

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