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Google’s Chrome OS (or Why I Hate Linux)

July 9, 2009

While this may be news to those who don’t follow tech news, Google announced yesterday that they’re developing a standalone operating system – Google Chrome OS. While a lot of details are still shrouded in mystery and speculation, the official announcement offers something of a glimpse into their intentions:

Speed, simplicity and security are the key aspects of Google Chrome OS. We’re designing the OS to be fast and lightweight, to start up and get you onto the web in a few seconds. The user interface is minimal to stay out of your way, and most of the user experience takes place on the web. And as we did for the Google Chrome browser, we are going back to the basics and completely redesigning the underlying security architecture of the OS so that users don’t have to deal with viruses, malware and security updates. It should just work.

Honestly, this sounds great, especially for netbooks, which are mostly used for internet and a a few productivity tasks and not much else.

But Wired seems to disagree. In “No One Wants Linux Netbooks. Can Google Do Better?”, they make a case that, basically, Linux isn’t Windows, and because it’s not Windows, consumers are scared and confused and frustrated by it, and therefore will be scared and confused and frustrated by Chrome, too.

In competing with Windows, Google Chrome OS will have to deal with many of the same challenges Linux has: compatibility, usability and unfamiliarity. The record isn’t good: In the past year, Linux-based netbooks have rapidly lost market share to Microsoft, as people find that Linux doesn’t work as expected, may not support the applications or peripherals they’re accustomed to using, and is just plain different.

While I agree Chrome will have to deal with compatibility, usability, and unfamiliarity, SO DOES EVERY OPERATING SYSTEM. Even new versions of Windows (and Vista failed on all three counts). And honestly, I think Chrome will fare a lot better in the netbook category than Linux.

Why? Because Linux is a pain in the ass.

Now, I’m not saying Linux sucks. I’m not saying it’s bad, or that it’s not flexible and extensible. I’m saying that, for your average and intermediate PC users, it’s a pain in the ass.

Allow me to illustrate. Late last year, I installed Ubuntu on my old HP laptop, the idea being to set it up as a file server to feed the AppleTV. The install went smooth as can be, and when the machine booted up I was pleasantly surprised by the interface and overall navigability.

Then I started trying to configure things. Basic things. Like wi-fi. And found out that, to enable wi-fi, I had to go into the terminal and type in a series of arcane command lines. The same thing for folder sharing. I basically ended up cutting and pasting from various online instructions and crossing my fingers.

Now…I’m pretty competent on computers…and I had NO IDEA what I was doing. And honestly, why should I? I’m not an engineer or code monkey. I haven’t had to play with command lines on a regular basis since the days of MS-DOS. And I wasn’t even trying to do any crazy hacker shit. Just turn the damn wi-fi on.

Linux, for all it’s flexibility and being free, just isn’t a user-friendly operating system. It gave me hell. I can’t imagine subjecting Jamie or my parents to that, much less the 92% of people who don’t even know what a browser is. No wonder Linux netbooks have dwindled to 25% of the market last year to just 4.5% this year.

Why Chrome Will Be Better

It’s Google. Plain and simple. Say what you will about Google, their products – from Gmail to Google Earth to Picasa to the Chrome browser – tend to have fantastic and intuitive UI design.

I have no idea what final form Google’s Chrome OS will take…whether there will even be standalone programs or whether it’ll be more “Browser as OS”…but I think it’s probably fairly safe to assume it will be 1) sleek and 2) easy to use. Instantly familiar to Windows users? Maybe not, but no way in hell will it require command line-fu just to ge the wi-fi up and working.

Will it displace Windows? No. But if it’s done right I think it could carve out a niche all its own, especially on netbooks.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 9, 2009 5:05 pm

    Too bad you don’t like linux, because “Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel”

    BTW, yesterday i installed a linux for my mother, and while the installation take place she was using firefox, at the end she restarted and began installing things, like amsn, video codecs, flash player, java, desktop visual effects, everything without typing anything in the command line. And no, shes not a computer freak, maybe she’s only a bit more intelligent than you 😉

    • Matt permalink*
      July 9, 2009 6:58 pm

      Yeah, I realize Chrome’s going to be built on Linux. That’s not necessarily a strike against it, if they can get the UI right. Which hasn’t been the case with the Linux builds I’ve tried.

      Your mom’s probably a great deal more intelligent than me – though I have to say installing applications and such was pretty straightforward in Ubuntu. It was configuring the basics that forced me into the command line. Folder sharing I could maybe forgive…but enabling wi-fi?

  2. July 9, 2009 10:45 pm

    enabling wi-fi?

    In ubuntu 9.04, just two clicks, connect and ok (for the shared key) in ubuntu 8.04 was a little bit more tricky, cause the kernel did not support the wi-fi board, and i’m sorry but if the kernel does not support a component even with googlo OS you may need a CLI in order to get it up and running.

    Folder sharing, I can set it up in linux in a couple minutes, in windows always drives my crazy, I never know what option to check 😦

  3. Tim permalink
    July 10, 2009 9:01 am

    Not sure about the whole Google OS here — I can be cynical and say it’s just Linux with a more consumer friendly brand name.

    All the applications Google is pointing us to are all web applications. They’re all going to work pretty much the same whether you’re on Windows, Google OS, or Linux.

    People usually get scared by Linux in 2 areas — hardware/driver set up, and a fear that the applications (non-web) they’re going to want are Windows only. I’m not sure why a Google OS based on Linux would be any better than straight up Linux on either point.

    I also think that netbook manufacturers screwed up by offering crippled versions of Linux on their hardware. I looked at some of those netbooks — Linux seemed like a good fit to keep the price down since I’d only be using it for web applications. But the ones I got to try used customized versions of Linux that were meant to make it friendly for the masses, but in reality dumbed down the OS and eliminated any flexibility/customizability from it in the name of “ease of use.”

  4. Matt Chen permalink
    July 11, 2009 10:14 pm

    Matt, I couldn’t agree with you more. Linux will always be behind Windows and OSX because of the valid points that you made. Until the Linux people can code everything driver related to cover the vast amount of devices then it will always be a shadow of itself. I too myself have run into the same issues related to installing Ubuntu and then finding out it can’t see my wifi device properly. Command line in terminal is so 1980’s

  5. January 5, 2010 5:47 pm

    Linux is for idiots and jerks. The only response to an argument a Linux user gives me and can give me is, “It’s not Windows.” So for my friend [blank], his response to this article would be, “It’s not Windows.” So he would enjoy that it’s not Windows for absolutely no reason. His basis on life is that eventually we will all have to adjust to Linux. One day, kids will be typing “sudo apt-get install porn” like it’s fucking google.

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