How can you be the lord of the sea without your own ship? This is what Google, a company that started out with a search engine, then entered domain after domain, before becoming the tallest giant of the Internet Age, has realised.
All of Google’s businesses are in the online world—if there were no Internet or access to Google services, it would mean no business for the Mountain View company. The only interface to Google services has always been a browser. Microsoft saw Google as its biggest threat on this turf, so there was little chance that Microsoft’s IE (Instant Exploiter) would ever give Google an easy ride on the Internet Highway.
Google did make friends with Firefox and others, but for how long can you take a ride on rented cars? So Google launched its very own Chrome browser, which like most Google services is still in the beta stage and not very efficient on the GNU/Linux platform. But the next problem Google faced was how to entice users of Windows or a Mac to the world of Chrome. So it decided to develop its own operating system as well.
While analysts are busy studying the impact this OS will have on the market, industry and FOSS leaders have refused to comment on the Google Chrome OS. When I asked him for his opinion, leading Linux kernel developer, Greg Kroah-Hartman said, “There’s nothing to comment on regarding a press-release. I prefer to see actual code.”
The timing could not have been better. Netbooks are now the preferred choice of more and more advanced on-the-move users. The trend is catching up in India as well. Last week I was travelling from Delhi to Lucknow on the Shatabdi, and from among the five laptop users in my compartment, two were using netbooks.
Now, what are you going to run on a netbook? Vista has been a huge disaster and PC makers have had to go back to a Flintstone Age Windows-XP. (Microsoft, on its part, is still trying to harvest that old crop, as it has nothing more efficient in its barn.) GNU/Linux players like Novell and Red Hat have little interest in home users. The only commercial player that is giving Microsoft and Apple a tough fight is Canonical’s Ubuntu.
Microsoft’s polished and rechristened Vista (under the name of Windows 7), which is around the corner, is supposed to run well on netbooks. Well, Microsoft committed the blunder of claiming Vista and IE7 to be the best OS and browsers ever, which only helped it in losing its credibility further. Besides, the price tag that Windows comes with has also upset the OEMs. Now, what better position than this, for OEMs to not only bargain with Microsoft but also delay deals with the Redmond giant as the Chrome OS will offer a ‘free’ (as in cost and customisation) alternative.
Google is already working with Acer, Adobe, ASUS, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Toshiba—a very impressive partner list indeed. On the other side, Google has its Android OS for the mobile segment; thus the company has just started to stretch its boundaries—the full extent of which is still unclear. The announcement of the Chrome OS has definitely put Microsoft in a sorry state. The company is now not in a position to further re-work on its already reworked ‘Vista as Windows 7’ to make it better.
Google, on the other hand, now has more muscle to influence hardware players than ever before. It is already driving the Open Handset Alliance, which brought the company closer to the hardware players. And now with the Chrome OS, the search engine giant has touched MS’s pain point.
Typically, the netbook players will now be working closer with Google than with Microsoft, because they will have a free version of an OS with much more control for customisation as compared to Microsoft’s product, since Chrome follows the Free Software policy. Also, since it is based on the Linux kernel, it is secure by design—which addresses one of the major concerns of netbook users.
What we expect to happen is that more and more netbook players will install the Chrome OS on their machines, which will give Google a strategic advantage to drive users to use its services and make money for itself as well as its partners. This seems to be the best deal for GNU/Linux as well as for OEMs.
But, there are bigger dangers with using Google, compared to Apple or Microsoft. Everything you do today, using any of the Google services, gives Google access to all your data and information. Honestly, today Google knows more about you than the government does.
RMS has already warned us all against going in blindly for such services. If successful, the Chrome OS will put Google in a monopolistic position—and it’s no news that monopolies tend to exploit users and kill competitors. One of the biggest examples is Intel, which now seems to have forgotten the foundations laid by Moore, and is now getting into the same sinful practices as its brother-in-arms, Microsoft.
I guess it is fine to support the Chrome OS in the beginning, because it is very important to continue creating and strengthening free alternatives of any software that people would depend on. But what I would like to add is, “Welcome Chrome, but Ubuntu and others… pull up your socks! We might need your help soon.”