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Point-For-Point With Keir Thomas About Google Chrome OS

Date/Time Permalink: 07/11/09 06:36:39 pm
Category: General

My, Google certainly got everybody's bonnet full of bees with their little OS announcement, didn't they? Amidst the hyper-frenzy and thrashing-about of Blogistan, so far one of the most sensible, level-headed discussions I've seen of the topic is from Keir Thomas, over at ComputerWorld.

And yes, I've made fun of the Google Chrome OS hype in my comic strip, and here I am adding to it. Isn't it ironic?

Anyway, I'm just trying to keep some of the outrage in check with some simple, gentle reasoning. So, before I start putting out the fire, may I just point out that Google contributes to the Linux kernel project itself, according to the study at LWN. Nearly 2% of it, in fact. So pardon me for sounding like a Polyanna about it, but jeepers, Google partly paid for the system I'm running right now. Isn't that nice of them? Perhaps we can repay the kindness by giving them the benefit of the doubt?

Now then, on to the points raised in Keir Thomas' article:

1. "Chrome OS will include proprietary technologies."

Oh, my. Let's all get together and cast a bunch of stones! Because no Linux distro has ever done that? Cough, Linspire, ahem, Zenwalk, achoo, Mepis, sniff, Ubuntu. For each of the issues raised:

  1. Flash: Well, Flash is already somewhat open. I've built many a Flash project using only FOSS. Gnash still lives and breathes, too; it's up to version 7 and some support of versions 8-9. In any case, is there anybody out there who never uses Flash?
  2. Media codecs. Nothing here that most Linux distros don't already do.
  3. Fonts. Sorry, that's just too small to worry about.

2. "Chrome OS was created to take away your privacy."

Or, as Thomas puts it, "Chrome OS might be free of charge but you'll pay for it with your online soul."

Oh, God. There is entirely too much hysteria and paranoia over this issue. Folks, let me bust a very large myth right here: You Have No Privacy Now. The only way you get privacy in today's society is if you do the Unabomber thing and go live in a wood shack in the woods and grow/shoot your own food. Your cell phone tracks you. Your car's OnStar navigation tracks you. You buy things in the store with RFID tags that track you. Your cash register receipt is printed with coupons on the back based on what you buy. Your credit cards track you. Your utility company tracks you. Your insurance tracks you. There's satellites in the sky with cameras watching you - even in your cabin in the woods!

I'm not making a case here for whether the loss of privacy is good or bad. It's the Information Age - here we are! But to lay it all on Google's head? Please!

3. "Google is big, ergo Google is evil."

This deserves its own post and may get one later, but briefly:

No, being rich and big does not make you evil. Let's take a big, fat example: If they only would quit their illegal anti-competitive monopolistic practices, even Microsoft would not be evil. Yes, I said it. I said it in its own post here. My whole beef with Microsoft is that I'd just like them to leave us all alone. Knock off that antitrust violation and associated nasty business - the stuff that's gotten them in trouble in the US, UK, and all over the world - and I'd be indifferent to them like any random company. Don't forget Bill Gates' 'Open Letter to Hobbyists' here. The free community does not have a problem with Microsoft; Microsoft is the one with the problem with the free community.

If anybody out there sees things in such black-and-white terms as "corporations = evil", they're entering Mark David Chapman's basement as far as delusions go. Furthermore, we need to support ethical companies to distinguish them from the unethical companies like Microsoft.

4. "Chrome OS could destroy desktop Linux."

I don't see where Chrome could do that, since BSD didn't, Apple didn't, Solaris didn't, and so on. Even Microsoft hasn't destroyed Linux, despite 15 years of trying.

Now, a sub-point there: Could it destroy Ubuntu? No, but I think Chrome might knock Ubuntu off its pedestal. It would be high time if it did.

5. "Chrome OS is not a community Linux."

Hmm, well, it could fix that.

In fact, this is a good place to list what I've been saving for the end:

What could Google do to fix these issues?

There's lots that Google can consider before this system gets released. There's a whole year and a half to work these issues out.

1. Let the FOSS community get involved. I see no reason why not. Solaris does it with Open Solaris, Red Hat does it with Fedora. Even Apple did it with Darwin. I see no reason why Google wouldn't want to. Their search engine has been running the GPL Linux for eleven years now, and they sponsor "Google Summer of Code"; surely they see that community development isn't all bad?

2. Give people the option to uninstall/ replace components. Really, if they don't do this, I, myself, am not even going to use it. I don't see how they could help but do that, anyway. Chrome OS runs on Linux, and should have GNU userland coreutils and so on. A tarball should compile on it like anything else. So what could prevent it? They can offer the Flash player/ codec/ fonts/ whatever, with the option to refuse those components and replace with your own.

3. Make it geek-friendly under the hood, without getting in the normal user's way. Google is very good at this already. With Google search, you can either compose a simple search query to find indexed pages, or use keywords, switches, and syntax to perform some special magic spell. All you have to do is not weld the hood shut.

In closing -

Before the wall of flames hit me in the comments section (Is that the sound of a pitchfork being sharpened out there?), let me make it perfectly clear that I do not think that Google walks on water. If they haul off and start acting evil, well, then, that's the time to call it. It may be a later day. Future events may prove this essay short-sighted.

But there's a ton of paranoia and hysteria out there about Google, and they haven't lived up to as much as 5% of it. Also, I'm taking this opportunity to show Keir Thomas - and the rest of the world - that we people of the Linux community can be a lot bigger than we're often given credit for.

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