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Jul 9, 2009

Google's Chrome OS is bad news for Linux

Google's Chrome OS has been announced today and - like any announcement from Google - is already widely being discussed. People usually focus on the supposed threat that this 'new' OS represents to Microsoft's dominance on the desktop. The commentary focuses on this Google vs. Microsoft aspect of the story. However, I think the news is actually worse for Linux than it is for Microsoft.

How can I say this, considering that Chrome is be based on a Linux kernel? Let me explain, with a 'historical' analogy.

In the 80s and 90s we had the so-called Unix Wars: Prominent Unix vendors like Sun, Digital, IBM, AT&T and many others were battling for supremacy in the server market. Guess who emerged victorious from those Unix Wars?

Microsoft's Windows NT.

Customers were sufficiently fed-up with the fragmentation and confusion in the Unix server market and finally were receptive to a message of simplicity: Your desktops already run Microsoft software, so why not your servers? It will all play nicely together ... just deal with a single vendor ... yada yada.

Now fast forward 15 to 20 years. While Unix is holding on to various diminishing pockets in the server market and Windows server-products have a stronghold in many enterprises, Linux has emerged as a very viable and popular choice for the server. On the desktop, however, Microsoft rules supreme now as it did then.

Back in the Unix Wars, Microsoft used the fragmentation amongst the competitors to become a dominant force in the market. Today, it enjoys the advantage that the fragmentation of potential opposition in the desktop market is handing to it. Nowhere is the fragmentation of Linux more apparent than on the desktop.

Ubuntu managed to become a strong player in the Linux desktop market, and for once it appeared as if things were finally coalescing. Ubuntu's popularity started to feed itself: Any issues or problems? Chances are someone solved it for Ubuntu already, a quick search on the Internet reveals answers to most common issues. Therefore, while Ubuntu might not be perfect for everyone or might have a few annoyances, for the most part you just don't go wrong settling on Ubuntu: So many others are running it, momentum has been forming.

Now Google comes along with Chrome OS. We now have another major player entering the Linux desktop OS market. Linux needs this like we need another hole in the head. Microsoft will read this news with glee: Through the opponent's fragmentation it managed to win the Unix wars. Now Linux's continued fragmentation will ensure that there isn't even going to be a war for the desktop.

So, I wish for Google Chome OS to fail. We don't need it. It doesn't help Linux. As suggested here, if Google wants an improved non-Microsoft desktop OS then please throw your considerable resources behind improvements in the existing Linux desktop distros. We will all be better off for it.

You should follow me on twitter here.

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