Google Announces a Linux Distro and the World Goes Mad

Last night on Google’s official blog they announced the Google Chrome Operating System. Unfortunately the details on the OS are a little vague. They talk about a minimalist user interface but there isn’t a single screenshot, they talk about security but it is based on Linux so that isn’t a big issue to begin with, and they talk about running on x86 and ARM chips but Linux has been running on both those architectures for years.

If you were curious (like I was) as to why Google would choose to announce this now, especially since they don’t seem to have much to say about it yet, Robert Scoble believes it has something to do with a Microsoft announcement set for this Monday. Unfortunately Scoble is embargoed from talking more about it.

What’s funny about this story is that there isn’t really a lot to talk about and yet everyone seems to be finding quite a bit more than I am.

There have been operating systems that focused on the web like this before, some of you might remember gOS. The problem with all of these internet focused operating systems is that you have to run completely different software than what most users are accustomed to. I know that Google wants to think that everyone lives in the cloud now but that just isn’t the case. It does appear to be the case amongst the kind of people that work at Google but not the Average Joe. And, even if the Average Joe does have everything up in the cloud theres i some sort of fear towards relying on it full time.

Google Chrome OS is initially being targeted at netbooks, which is a wise decision. The netbook market is currently the place where Windows doesn’t really cut it and not a single Linux distro does either. The only problem is that Windows 7 will be out by the time Chrome OS is released (Chrome OS will be available in the second half of 2010) and from everyone I’ve heard or talked to about Windows 7 says that it works flawlessly on every netbook they’ve tried it on.

I know that Google feels the need to compete with Microsoft but what they fail to realize is that Microsoft will always lose when competing with Google at web services (like search) and Google will always lose when competing with Microsoft at desktop software.

Official Google Blog: Introducing the Google Chrome OS.

Update 7/9/09: MG Siegler says that it is indeed an online version of Office that Microsoft is going to be announcing on Monday. This is the reason for the timing of the Chrome OS announcement.

Update 7/9/09: The geniuses over at Engadget posted screenshots of Chrome OS. It should have been pretty obvious that they were fake (John Gruber puts it best), but they posted them anyway only later updating the post to correct their mistake.

Update 7/10/09: From the Official Google Blog:

The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies.

It has been pointed out on various blogs that because Google is building a new windowing system this isn’t going to be “just another Linux distro.” I tend to disagree, mostly because I can’t really imagine how it could be all that different. I am very willing to eat my words if Google shows something that blows my mind but at this point I really don’t see that happening (and can’t see that happening until next year, when this thing actually ships). I have a feeling that this OS is going to just boot directly into a web browser, which wouldn’t blow me away and instead would leave me as disappointed as I am with Chrome OS as it is today (which is with essentially no details).

Regarding the use of web-based applications on the OS. It’s obvious that all of them will work, as long as you have a browser (I’m assuming Chrome OS will use the Chrome web browser) all web-based applications will work, I’m certain that you don’t have to mention that specifically. Google says that “the web is the platform” but does that mean that there won’t be any native apps for the OS? That seems a little silly to me, especially since this OS is built on Linux. Obviously you will be able to write native apps for it and Google probably won’t do anything to stop you, so why act as if web apps are the only apps that will work? We all know how that worked out for Apple.

This whole announcement has been the oddest one I can remember. I don’t expect announcements like this out of Google, and yet here we are. I wish they would have just said “we’re building an OS, we have nothing to say about it now, but it is coming next year.” And, just left it at that. At least then we would let our imaginations run wild. Maybe Google would have even taken some of our speculation to heart and actually built a really amazing product.

Update 7/10/09: Google has posted a useless FAQ about Chrome OS.

Update 7/14/09: Not only does Eric Schmidt say that he didn’t want to do Chrome initially, he also says that Microsoft is welcome to port Internet Explorer over to Chrome OS. This means that (unless Schmidt was just joking) it will be very possible to build native apps for the OS.

Update 7/14/09: There was some speculation that Google announced Chrome OS when it did because of Microsoft’s rumored “Gazelle” project. The Gazelle project is a browser that works similarly to Chrome in terms of how it deals with processes but it is definitely different. Ars Technica managed to dig up a white paper on the project and you can find their post on the subject here.

Update 7/14/09: It’s possible that “Native Client” may play a significant role in Chrome OS.

Native Client is an open-source research technology for running x86 native code in web applications, with the goal of maintaining the browser neutrality, OS portability, and safety that people expect from web apps. We’ve released this project at an early, research stage to get feedback from the security and broader open-source communities. We believe that Native Client technology will someday help web developers to create richer and more dynamic browser-based applications.

Update 7/15/09: Bill Gates talking to CNET regarding Chrome OS:

There’s many, many forms of Linux operating systems out there and packaged in different ways and booted in different ways. In some ways I am surprised people are acting like there’s something new. I mean, you’ve got Android running on Netbooks. It’s got a browser in it.