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Chrome OS: What could it mean for Linux?

Posted 07-17-2009 at 01:06 PM by pereb

Last week, Google put an end to the ongoing rumors and officially announced Chrome OS. Marketed as a solution for lower-end PCs and netbooks, Chrome OS is touted as running “within a new windowing system”. What’s interesting, though, is that it will run on top of a Linux kernel. Is Google’s Chrome OS project a step towards legitimizing (in the sense of marketing to the mass public) Linux?

When it comes to operating systems, the public perception is quite narrow. There's Windows, there's Mac's OSX, and there's "other". The simple fact is Windows and OSX have a stranglehold on the market right now. Google is already facing a mountain, simply because its OS won’t be one of The Big Two. Even though the Google brand gives Chrome a boost over lesser-known Linux distributions, it will have to be an incredibly strong release straight out of the gate to have a fighting chance against the two big boys.

However, despite the odds, Google Chrome OS might have more of a fighting chance of making it big than it would appear. What suggests this? Microsoft’s reaction. Now, if a company isn’t particularly concerned about a new competitor, they usually don’t bother themselves too much with it. Instead of privately dismissing Chrome OS, though, Microsoft has gone out of its way this week to announce, quite loudly, that it’s not frightened of Google Chrome OS, and that the new product doesn’t stand a fighting chance. At last week’s Worldwide Partner Conference, Steve Ballmer made a point of scoffing at Google and their OS, calling Google “confused”. Oh, Microsoft. Thou dost protest too much, methinks.

Should Google’s OS succeed, even remotely, this could be quite a boon to the Linux community. For one thing, Google announced that since Chrome OS will be open source, since built on the Linux kernel, they are currently hiring Linux software engineers. As third-party developers begin to attach themselves to the new OS, the demand for Linux-trained IT professionals should skyrocket. Beyond that, even, is what I suggested earlier: if Google’s Chrome OS succeeds, it could be a huge step in increasing the public’s acceptance and familiarity of Linux-based developments. But don’t worry: we can all still say we were here first.
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