Samsung has recently announced that they are to deploy Chromium OS, Google’s new operating system in a new line of netbooks later this year—the first sign that Chromium will be well received by OEMs. Still under development, the OS is already promising to change what we expect from an operating system. But I believe it’s bound to do more than just take netbook share away from Microsoft, it could help set the stage for Linux to gain share in the desktop market too.
In July of last year, Google announced that they were creating an open source operating system called Chromium OS. From the development website, Chromium OS is an open-source project that aims to build an operating system that provides a fast, simple, and more secure computing experience for people who spend most of their time on the web. Here you can review the project’s design docs, obtain the source code, and contribute. To learn more about the project goals, read the announcement blog post.
Google Chrome leverages the small and versatile Linux kernel (the heart of the operating system). And like many things Google has been doing lately, it’s open-source, which means that the project is being developed in one of the best spirits of software design and will be free for all users to download and use and contribute to. It also means that Chrome OS will be free for OEM manufacturers to ship on new machines, reducing the cost for consumers at the shelves.
So where might this be going? While they may not compete directly, Google can open some very important flood gates for the Linux community. A constant problem for Linux has been hardware manufacturers who don’t properly support Linux with either drivers or software. Since Google Chrome OS works on a Linux kernel, if the companies support Google, they’ll support the more traditional Linux flavours too. If Chrome manages to capture enough market share, then more and more companies will find it profitable to support Linux, making it more appealing to the mass market.
For software developers, this may be especially true. Yes, it can be very frustrating to make Windows software work on Linux, but because of the open source design, it is very easy to deploy cross-platform Linux solutions on Windows and Mac boxes. Software companies will find it cheaper to develop for Linux and port to Windows or Mac, to gain the largest possible market exposure with minimum development cost.
The timing of all of this is interesting too. Linux has a reputation for being hard-core, and something the average user should avoid. A lot of Linux distributions have been trying to break this perception, and have been designing their products to appeal to businesses and the average user. I think one of the strongest leaders in this movement has to be the commercially backed Ubuntu distribution. These efforts have appealed to a lot of users, creating an effect referred to commonly as the Ubuntu bang. Ease of use, unparalleled customizability and Mac-like aesthetics (no, I don’t mean the Ubuntu brown) have attracted a lot of users to Linux in the past 5 years.
With all these considerations, the time may be right for Linux to see a greater share on the desktop market, and Google’s OS may be the catalyst. With piracy rampant and the free software community gaining popularity, the economic climate of the software industry is in flux. No, Microsoft isn’t in any trouble. There’s still lots of money to be made, but many software companies will find themselves in a position where they have to change their business model in order to stay on green pastures.