Steve Ballmer is probably throwing chairs up in Redmond again. Although, Linux advocate that I am, I'm not entirely sure I'm rooting for this, myself.
Google's Android build to power cell phones? Yes, it has product calls to handle small form factor PC's. And the flexibility of Linux means it can run on more than just an Intel architecture, such as an ARM processor (low power consumption is the key for that one, it can run for almost a full day on a single charge). But, even though a lot of netbook makers (like Asus) have been working on Android for a desktop, Google hasn't encouraged anyone to do so. Despite the cool factor of Android, some people (who promptly got flamed, and no, I wasn't on either side of that one) felt Android wasn't ready for the desktop. Some of us, however, never quite shook the feeling of something else coming. There have long been rumors that Google was considering its own Linux distro, so much so, that when gOS (the "Google-ish Linux" that did nothing but give me fits) was being tested, people assumed that was it.
Today, big news. Apparently, Google's Chrome browser was just a test. Google is going to adapt it into a full-blown OS. Chrome OS will use the Chrome browser for the desktop, running on top of a custom Linux kernel. If this sounds familiar to you, it's because it's what Netscape was up to when M$ suddenly realized the importance of the Internet to their OS and set out to destroy them. Netscape featured a variety of apps accessed through the browser as a desktop, turning the OS basically into a host while the browser does the work (Marc Andreessen, who created the original Netscape, the first commercial web browser, and founded Netscape's company, concurs, saying that Chrome is already almost an OS, now that it can download apps to run offline). Key difference: Netscape was riding on top of an OS that controled their fate. Google is going to sidestep M$ completely and make their own that M$ can't dick with. It also means it can run on machines that not even XP can run on. And they expect it will soon be able to run on full-blown towers (what a surprise -- not). The first build will be out sometime this year, enabling the Open Source community to start working it over. It is expected to be on netbooks around the middle of next year, so about a year from now, or roughly after people have had a chance to see how much Windows 7 sucks donkeys (word from the beta testers is not encouraging, but then again, it is just Fista 2.0).
Looks like I may be learning Python after all, just to not limit the audience for my games. Of course, the new Pyjama project will convert Python code to Java, a GTK program, or let it run in a browser. Not only that, but I'm guessing it won't use the X window system, which is pushing 20 years old and has devs bitching that it is slow to run. I wonder how it will handle Flash -- Flash is designed for Intel chipsets (the Mac version took a LOT of work), and won't run on an ARM, and Adobe has said they will not make it for another chipset. Which might give the GNash Project a chance to step up. The OS will supposedly boot in seconds, which smells like a lightweight Linux that runs out of the BIOS. Since everything is modeled to run in the browser, this means the computer is basically a thin client.
(I wish to point out that El Reg is calling it a crushing defeat for Linux and a victory for M$. El Reg used to actually know what the hell it was talking about. What happened? Oh, yeah -- the founders sold the site to a news network, they sold advertising for M$ on it, and got rid of the writers and attitude that made the site worth reading to begin with. Without the BOFH, there'd be almost nothing worthwhile there.)
So, what does this mean? And, more to the point, why aren't I celebrating this massive broadside against M$ that I and lots of other techies suspected was coming about a year ago?
For precisely the same reason so many people are excited -- because it's Google.
Google can adapt faster than any tech company in the world, and they do aim for a pleasant user experience. However, they misstep horribly. The first version of Chrome used a different license than the GPL, and they wound up amending the terms after people complained about the implications of it. The Chrome OS will run on Linux, but the Chrome browser for Linux is behind the Windows version and horrible compared to the darling of web browsers, Firefox. Android, when it was first released, was unstable and barely usable, and hasn't shed some of its problems, but it's still got a buzz that rivals the iPhone. Couple that with M$' hearty cultivation of user distrust and an attitude that can be summed up as, "Ha ha, suckers!", and Google could launch the Chrome OS with a presentation like the recent Rail conference did, and people would still want it because 1) it's Google and 2) it's not Windows. In short, unlike Red Hat, Ubuntu, or the others, there's no pressure on Google to bring their A game.
Modern Linux distros are meant to do just about anything you need. Part of the reason Macs drive me berserk is because they do what they expect you to need. Fun fact -- you can't make a data DVD under OS X, you can only make video DVD's. You want a data disc? CD's or externals. Mac does a great job handling the basics and should be applauded for that. But if you are really into computers, it won't take you long to run into its limitations. Chrome OS sounds like just another kind of OS X. Which means it's not going to really show people what Linux can do and how it can best Windows. Combine that with my antidisestablishmentarianism and general distrust (it doesn't take much for a company to go from underdog to Establishment in my eyes, and Google and Activision have made the switch in my mind) and I wonder what is going to happen.
Next year is going to be very interesting to watch the computer field.