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OS Wars (Part IV): Google, the Cloud and the OS

Google has now announced that it plans to enter the operating system game in the second half of next year with a Linux-based OS that can run on both traditional PC chips and the ARM-based chips popular in cell phones. The idea behind Chrome OS is to create an extremely lightweight operating system that boots directly to the browser, in which all applications run. Chrome, will be used in netbooks and full size desktop PCs for consumers in the second half of 2010 and aims to make web applications easier to use.

“The operating systems that browsers run on were designed in an era where there was no web,” Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management at Google. “The Chrome OS is our attempt to re-think what operating systems should be”. “People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up,” Sundar Pichai, vice president of product management, and Linus Upson, engineering director, wrote in the blog. “They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files. Even more importantly, they don’t want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates.”

Google is already working with a number of manufacturers to produce and distribute the system. “It’s been part of their culture to go after and remove Microsoft as a major holder of technology, and this is part of their strategy to do it,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at Enderle Group. “This could be very disruptive. If they can execute, Microsoft is vulnerable to an attack like this, and they know it.” Google and Microsoft have often locked horns over the years in a variety of markets, from internet search to mobile software. Microsoft Windows is currently installed in more than 90 per cent of the world’s PCs. A key factor will be whether Google can strike partnerships with PC makers, such as Hewlett-Packard Co and Dell Inc, which currently offer Windows on most of their product lines.

Google brings a considerably larger arsenal and with Google Gears, Google Native Client, and a host of other projects, Google is trying to blunt many of the browser’s shortcomings, including the inability to fully tap local processing and storage. This effort will take time, as Google itself acknowledges, but the company’s full-frontal assault on Windows is definitely out in the open.

Google’s push on the open source based OS has opened up the sibling rivalry between the Linux OSs: Mark Shuttleworths Ubuntu and the Google Chrome. While Ubuntu in its present form is only a desktop based OS (Windows alternative, in classic sense) and Chrome in its promised form will be a cloud based desktop interface/OS, it won’t be too long before both these OSs confront each other on the convergence front.


OS Wars (Part III):Sibling Rivalry between Chrome and Ubuntu

Linux Sibling RivalryThe launch of the Google Chrome OS is seen primarily as a threat to Microsoft’s legacy. However, Chrome may also splinter the Linux juggernaut just when things were gung-ho with Ubuntu.

 If there is one problem that the Linux and open-source community has suffered repeatedly over the past two decades, it’s been fragmentation. There are several different platforms: Solaris, AIX, HP-UX, FreeBSD etc and the list is always growing longer. Based on their regions and sources, users, communities and companies have switched among different Linux distributions several times over the past decade, as one or the other gained prominence.

After Red Hat, Fedora, Mandriva, Suse, Slackware and Debian, from the Linux stable; the bright light forming at the end of that confused and heterogeneous tunnel was Mark Shuttleworth’s Ubuntu. Out of the ferocious Linux distribution wars, Ubuntu has emerged with the seeming strength to take on the rest–at least when it comes to the Linux desktop platform. The growing dominance of Ubuntu (at least on the desktop, the server room seems to have been won by Red Hat) has delivered the Linux community a serious advantage in its ongoing war against the incumbent Windows and Apple platforms because of its ability to give software developers a single platform to concentrate on and polish to a degree not seen previously.

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 wanted 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. Google’s plans to “completely redesign” the underlying security architecture of Linux could be seen as counterproductive to the purpose of Linux.

While Google has made moves in the direction of open source with its pledge to open-source Chrome OS, the same way it did with several previous projects: the Chrome browser itself and its Android mobile OS, doubts still remain about those projects also. For example, where do they fit in between true open-source projects, maintained and supported by the community, and to what extent are they extensions of Google’s online advertising empire?

Android is a great mobile operating system, second only to Apple’s iPhone platform. But Google still controls most aspects of Android’s development. Also, anyone using Android would have no doubt that the operating system ties in very nicely with Google’s cloud offerings (for example, Gmail). But things are a lot trickier if you prefer Windows Live or other rival systems. Chrome too, is a great browser that I use for much of my daily needs. But it’s mainly still in Google’s hands, and so those of us who prefer true competition to exist in the browser world take great comfort from the fact that Mozilla Firefox is completely independent and not pushing anyone’s agenda.

Who are you going to trust and believe in? The non-commercial Ubuntu Foundation (and wider project), which has developed an open-source operating system second to none and virtually ended the Linux distribution wars? Or Google, which also makes free products (well, mostly) and packages advertising in (sometimes)? Google makes great products. But it’s currently trying to tread a nice middle ground between completely embracing the open-source community and keeping control over software it has developed. That’s an impossible path to walk and one that leaves it open to being criticized for the same sort of arrogance that operating system vendors have been accused of for decades.


OS Wars (Part II): Measuring the Microsoft Response

Posted in Computing and Operating Systems, The cloud and the open source by Manas Ganguly on July 9, 2009

Apple Google MSWhen Microsoft challenged Google’s raison d’etre Search engine, with its own “decision engine”, the game was “on”. Bing has done well compared to the earlier attempts of Microsoft on the search platform. Bing has caught Google’s attention and made some significant strides into the “Search” territory.  

Then came the cracker from Google: The Chrome OS! When Microsoft struck Google deep inside (at its Search platform), Google retaliated at Microsoft’s core: The OS! Vintage warfare here!

However, an alternate thought to this subject is that the threat to Microsoft’s OS core was always there! It was only time before someone (and Google) decided to pick upon its open source and cloud computing basics to hit back at the “legacy systems” and proprietary Microsoft model. In short, Google is aiming to render desktop software irrelevant. To thwart them, Microsoft needs Windows to do things that a browser can’t–or do the same things significantly better.

Interestingly, if Microsoft wants some tips on how to do this, they might want to look toward Apple.

1.Essentially, this has been Apple’s challenge all along–Make the Mac experience enough better than a generic PC that it is worth the added cost. The Mac’s resurgence came when it had a strong OS–Mac OS X–combined with iLife applications that really nailed the experience for the tasks that people wanted to do on their computer at the time. Superior User Experience (in doing the same set of things) is an area is one where Windows has been languishing in recent years.

2.Although most people wouldn’t want to give up their favorite desktop applications (Windows or Mac), the Web has been gaining ground. Even areas that were once squarely in the desktop’s domain–such as photo editing, productivity software and personal finance are making their way onto the Web. What Windows really needs is a new generation of killer apps.

3.Microsoft also has to do something that Apple doesn’t–aim for the masses. Part of Apple’s success story has been about choosing its battles and accepting that it can’t win everywhere. The Windows model depends on ubiquity, so it needs answers with nearly universal appeal.

4.One area where Microsoft has been investing is around the area of doing the same things better. It’s focus on touch screens in Windows 7 is an example of this. Although multitouch is likely to remain niche in the short term, it shows the power that a desktop interface can have.

5.Microsoft also needs to minimize the downsides associated with Windows. On that score, Microsoft has made significant strides with Windows 7. The operating system boots quicker and behaves better than its predecessor.

6. On the Office side, Microsoft needs to create software that is enough better than Google that company’s want to pay for it. Next week, Microsoft is expected to talk more about Office 2010, the next version of Office, which is due out next year.

Microsoft is taking a two-pronged approach.

First, it is taking on Google Apps head-on with lightweight browser-based versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote that can run on Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer. It will offer them to consumers via its Windows Live service–a service that today is free–and businesses will also be able to give the browser-based apps to their workers.

Second, Microsoft is also doing more on the desktop, adding in the kinds of features it hopes will make the Office suite worth paying for.

The path for Microsoft is clear. The big question, though, is whether Google will be able to be “good enough”

Microsoft has some time, but not a ton. Google’s operating system won’t even arrive on PCs until the second half of next year. Plus, for now, Windows has the advantage of legacy application support–i.e. businesses and consumers want to run their existing programs. But to stay in front for years to come, it will have to do better than that. It needs to figure out–and quick–what the next set of tasks users want to do with their computer and how to make them demonstrably better on a PC.

The company also has another/third option as well. It can work on Windows’ successor. It could be that it needs a lightweight browser-based OS of its own.

Indeed, the thinking beyond its Gazelle research project is that the browser needs to be more like an operating system. In that case, the browser doesn’t actually take on the operating system’s complete role, but rather relies on Windows. However, r has other operating system work under way as well, including its top-secret Midori project.

Microsoft may take all three approaches, but hold off on the third one unless and until it needs to. That’s pretty much what Microsoft has done with Office vis-a-vis Google Apps. It was only after large business customers started threatening to go to Google Apps that Microsoft conceded that it needed to offer full-on browser apps.


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OS Wars (Part I):Google Chrome -The next gen OS (in the cloud)

google-chrome-five_1439439fGoogle Chrome OS is a computer operating system, based around the Google Chrome browser, which is aimed at speeding up process across more powerful computers. Google has stated that the software will be fast and lightweight with minimal bells and whistles “to stay out of your way”, much like its search engine and browser. It is being designed to help users get onto the web within a few seconds of logging on.

Google is trying to alleviate some of the frustration inherent in Windows-based computers, such as slow loading times, computer viruses and complicated hardware installation. It hopes to achieve this by making the first operating system for the cloud generation – meaning the majority of the system’s work will be going through the web rather than on the computer.

Google has predicted people will be able to buy the first Google Chrome OS powered netbooks by the second half of 2010. However, because the system will be open sourced, like Chrome the browser, Google will be making the code available to developers later this year. A Google spokesperson said: “We have a lot of work to do, and we’re definitely going to need a lot of help from the open source community to accomplish this vision.”

As the system will be based on Linux and it’s open-source, it is largely expected Google Chrome OS will be free. Google will monetise the service as it gains share with corporate partnerships but to consumers, it should be totally free of charge. Google is in talks with all netbook manufacturers and therefore it is likely that most models, such as Samsung and Sony, will offer the software immediately post launch.

There are two major advantages vis a vis Microsoft’s Windows:

i) As the system is web-based it will offer users total integration with the internet and as more and more applications become web-based, the computer experience would be increasingly seamless.

ii) It is widely expected to be a free service, whereas Microsoft charges different amounts for its various versions of Windows.


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