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