A lot has been written and speculated about Google Chrome OS, even though there is still nothing tangible. I think it’s rather funny that so many people are talking about a product that is frankly very far away from becoming a reality. Nevertheless, Google carries a lot of weight in the tech world, even if the product itself may not be that impressive to begin with (or even exist yet, as is the case with Chrome OS).
Most of the talk surrounding the topic has been around whether Windows, Apple, or Linux is in trouble because of the arrival of the new Operating System. Personally, I think none of the main operating systems are in trouble in the short term, and they will have plenty of time in the mid to long term to figure out effective strategies for net-based or rather net-optimized operating systems.
As we discussed in our latest episode of Latin Tech Talk, the trend towards computing on the cloud is clear. As the infrastructure is built and hardened to accommodate the new cloud-computing model, it becomes increasingly obvious that, in the mid to long term, the idea of turning on your computer in the morning instantly and being connected to the web (or a web-based interface) is going to come true. My wife, for instance, uses her brand new, shiny iMac pretty much exclusively for Facebook. It’s always on her screen… Firefox (I set it up for her) is constantly maximized on her screen with the Facebook interface blinking notices at her.
All these great services like Flickr, web-mail, YouTube, Hulu, GoogleDocs, Ms Office for web, are starting to give us an idea as to what the future will be like, but let’s not kid ourselves… it’s still a long way off before we ditch our desktops with their video editing software, local music libraries, video games, productivity software, etc. Why? Because we still have to figure out new models of doing all these things remotely, and seriously, the infrastructure is not quite there yet.. but.. it’s coming.
Apple and MS are the kings of the desktop at the moment. Their products are mature and the amount of things you can do with them are simply amazing, which is something that will take many years for a web or cloud based system to even match. And, when the infrastructure and new paradigms are finally feasible… there is nothing to stop you from using your desktop from taking advantage of it, plus the myriad of other things you can do with a fast local processor.
There has also been a lot of talk about the Linux community losing out because of Google’s efforts, which I think is also kind of crazy. The linux community has the most to gain from Google’s efforts because the model of working on Open Source is so drastically different from traditional development models. The development of the new OS, drivers, display layer, etc. will all be Open Source… meaning: if its proves to be a winner, there’s no stopping you from incorporating it into your distribution.
Just as Google is benefiting from using the open source kernel that is linux, plus all the great GNU and open source projects out there, all the other distributions and projects will benefit from the open software and patches Google returns to the community. I find it funny that people still think of linux distros as competitors, when in truth they turn out to be great collaborators and move the whole platform forward. In the end, users have choice, and the better executed or most popular ideas will grab hold and get implemented into all the other distros as well. It’s a very organic way of development that corporations tend to have difficulties with, but communities strive on.
This is why I think Linux, in the end, will be the biggest winner from all this. No doubt MS and Apple will come out with their own ideas and products to take advantage of the future web-world, and it will be very interesting times… but I predict the constant growth and adoption of Linux and the open model will prevail in the very long term, precisely because the model is just so disruptive.
Who knows, perhaps MS will concentrate in the future on software as a web-service, and leave the basic OS stuff to the linux crowd, or come out with it’s own MS-Linux subscription (with Chrome or Firefox as the defaut browser), and of course all the MS support your $75 a year can buy! Most likely not, but a fellow can dream, right? More likely we’ll see Windows 7, Windows 8, etc. etc. etc., each one inching more towards the MacOS and Linux model of doing things.
Apple, I think, will focus even more on elegant hardware. They have already benefited greatly from the open source community by adopting most of it’s MacOS and Safari browser from open source projects. Will there be an Apple Linux… nope… MacOSX is already as close and useful as a Linux as anything out there. Where Apple will shine is in Hardware, and that is something they know and keep pushing constantly.. they are the BMW of the computer world, and I foresee them to stay in that spot for a long time yet. And the iPhone, iPod Touch and whatever next touch-based device they come out with, based on MacOsX (Darwin Un*x) will undoubtedly create much buzz and revenue for the company and keep them positioned as the innovators of the gadget world.
All of this, however is many years into the future.. for the time being, the desktop (or laptop) is king and it will take a lot more than Chrome OS to change that.