Thursday, April 02, 2009

Google Is The Next Linux Desktop

Since HP announced that it was "thinking about" using Android as the operating system for its new netbooks, and since both Asus and Freescale have also announced plans to do so - I got to thinking about Linux on the desktop.

It's been the "holy grail" of Linux to find a home on the desktop as a real, viable alternative to Windows. However it's taken many, many years and there is still a lot of "competition" among the various Linux distributions as to who is best for the desktop user.

The current reigning champion in the desktop Linux world is Ubuntu - and it's been embraced by Dell and HP in various combinations and configurations for some time. HP even went so far as to write their own user interface for Ubuntu (be THAT was fun!).

Now, I really like Ubuntu - and I've installed it and have used it (at the GUI level - not at the command-prompt level) and it's pretty cool. It does take some getting used to - it's like switching to OpenOffice from MS Office. The features are "similar" and the paradigms are "similar" - but there are enough differences to where there is a slight learning curve.

The problem with Ubuntu is not the distribution. It's not the still somewhat lacking UI, it's not the limited number of applications (that part is improving in general). The reason that Ubuntu hasn't become the "real" alternative to Windows is the fact that Canonical, Ubuntu's developer, hasn't beat the consumer drum and put out a really slick GUI that people will love.

They haven't spent the marketing millions that it would require to drive "pull" adoption (people asking for it). They really don' t have the industry muscle to drive wide adoption.

However, there IS one company that has all those things and more: Google. Yep, ever since Android first appeared (and the collective groan about yet another mobile operating system rang out) - both developers and consumers have been interested in seeing if the search giant could bring to an operating system the "coolness" and simplicity it had to search.

It wasn't long after the first Google mobile phones shipped that some smart folks got the OS to run on a netbook - instead of just a phone. The netbook, just like a phone - uses the Atom processor - rather than an x86 processor found in "regular" computers. These little powerhouses sip the power and don't heat up to microwave-hot temperatures like the other chips do.

So, we have the brewing of a perfect storm: an operating system based on the free, open-source Linux kernel; a huge, international company with a huge consumer and business base of customers; a huge, international company with extremely deep pockets to spend on marketing (not to mention that 1 in 3 people who use the web visit their site EVERY DAY); brand-name hardware manufacturers who want to leverage Google's brand to move inexpensive hardware.

To be sure, there are other operating systems that might have a run - the WebOS by Palm (not likely), the Symbian OS (could be interesting - but it's years away) - or maybe even Ubuntu itself (but not until it runs on a phone!).

But, given Google's track record to try things; and the fact it's already invested a huge sum to make Android work on phones; and given the fact that iPhone users are turning into Mac users at a record rate... they could be on to something.

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