Linux Reaction Mixed to Google’s New Chrome OS

Google Chrome OS

Google is putting Linux front and center with its new, in-development operating system. But will the introduction of its Chrome OS create a new challenger to existing Linux distributions or will it play nice with the community and help grow Linux as a whole?

That’s just one of the many questions sparked by Google’s formal unveiling of the Chrome OS late Tuesday — though a public release of the open source licensed operating system is not set until 2010.

Already, it’s clear that Google’s Chrome OS may be bumping heads with existing operating systems. For starters, the netbook- and Web-centric OS may overlap with Android, another open source operating system in which Google is invested. Android may be aimed at smartphones, but it’s also garnered interest as a netbook platform. That could put it into contention with Chrome OS, which will be available for x86 and ARM processors.

For now, at least, open source industry insiders are optimistic, seeing Chrome OS as being most threatening to Microsoft Windows.

“With Linux as the foundation of Chrome, as well as the foundation of other challengers to Microsoft’s desktop OS monopoly, we do see this as very good news,” Amanda McPherson, vice president of marketing and developer programs at the Linux Foundation, told “As more and more people use Linux as the base for their products, Linux gets stronger and stronger.”

A Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) spokesperson declined to comment. Microsoft is currently in the midst of preparing its own netbook-focused offering — a low-end version of the upcoming Windows 7.

For existing Linux vendors, however, Google’s arrival on the OS scene may be more complex, with the backers of various distribution greeting the news with a mixture of concern and cautious optimism.

Joe Brockmeier of Novell’s openSUSE community Linux distribution voiced some concerns about how Google has started off Chrome OS — without the larger Linux and open source world.

“It’s disappointing that they’ve chosen to go it alone this far rather than working with the existing communities,” Brockmeier, who serves as openSUSE’s community manager, told

He pointed to the example set by Intel’s Moblin mobile Linux, which was transferred to the Linux Foundation earlier this year in an effort to encourage broader community adoption and participation.

“I think Intel made the right call with Moblin to put the effort in the hands of the Linux Foundation and try to work with the larger community,” he said. “Maybe Google will ultimately go that route. It’s hard to tell from the announcement so far.”

Others were more overly positive about the effect Chrome OS could have on overall Linux adoption.

“Open source has proven to be a better model of development and the platform of the future,” a Red Hat spokesperson told “The momentum and interest from leading technology vendors continues to build. We look forward to seeing how this project will progress.”

Red Hat may be able to better afford such a stance: While it does have desktop aspirations, it is not as actively engaged in the netbook space as are other Linux vendors — like Novell’s SUSE Linux and Canonical’s Ubuntu.

Gerry Carr, platform marketing manager at Canonical, downplayed the news, telling that, at this point, all Google has delivered is a blog post stating its intent — and as a result, it’s too early to speculate on how the competitive landscape will shape up.

“I think we would rather focus on a new entrant bringing a bunch of energy to the open source space and validating the choice of Linux for developing new operating systems that will replace legacy Windows,” Carr said. “But by whom and how that Linux choice will be delivered is predicting the future with little data — not something that is smart to do.”

Page 2: Google takes on X Window System

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OpenSUSE’s Brockmeier said that while he sees Chrome OS as a competitor — in the sense that users and contributors will have another option from which to choose — he added that competition in the Linux space isn’t one-sided, with the same open source tools underpinning many offerings.

“Looking at the community side, anything that helps to spread Linux and free software is a good thing,” Brockmeier said. “But I am curious about Google’s plan to work with the community.”

Chrome OS’s new windows?

One of the stated goals for Chrome OS is a new windowing system for Linux. All modern Linux systems use some form of the X Window System as the underlying basis for their desktop user interfaces.

OpenSUSE’s Brockmeier is among those that does not see a need for another windowing system on Linux.

“Any technical advantages you might get from a new window system are offset by losing the applications that work with X already,” Brockmeier said.

The Linux Foundation’s McPherson is also curious to see how Google’s Linux windowing plans shape up. In her view, community collaboration is still the key.

“In general, we feel using community-supported, upstream components is the best way to go,” McPherson said. “It’s not just good for the community, it’s best for the vendor who is basing their products on Linux as it gives them all the advantages of collaborative development.”

For Ubuntu and its commercial backer Canonical, investing in X Window System improvements is something they are already doing. A potential new approach for an open source windowing system is also something that both will be watching closely.

“There are no sacred cows,” Carr said. “It will be interesting to see what Google proposes and how the open source community reacts to it.”

“Can X be improved?” he added. “Sure it can. We will continue to invest in and integrate improvements in X while watching what Google [does]. Innovation is exciting and what they are proposing — better integration of Web to desktop — is something we can support. We look forward to see what’s proposed.”

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