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Why isn’t Chrome ‘Google Linux’?

Former Linux User & Developer editor, Simon Brew, investigates why Chrome OS is 'open source' and not 'Linux'…

Whilst you might not immediately appreciate it from the mountain of press coverage it’s received thus far, Google’s Chrome OS is somewhat inevitably based upon the Linux kernel. To be fair to Google, it’s admitted this point, and declared the fact in its initial blog post announcing the existence of its upcoming operating system. But it’s also been careful not to deploy the Linux card too much, instead opting for the far friendlier phrase ‘open source’.

The blog post of 7 July 2009 that formally confirmed Chrome OS mentioned open source four times, and Linux twice. The telling point, though, was that Linux was alluded to in one of those mentions as if it was a competitor, rather than a companion, of Chrome OS. The key phrase read, when discussing the benefits to applications developers, “these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux, thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform”.

Right there. That’s when Google distanced itself from the Linux ‘brand’ if you will, and instead cited Chrome OS on a competitive footing to the entire Linux movement, as well as Windows and Mac OS.
And you know what? It’s absolutely right to do so.

Just look at the debacle of PC World trying to sell netbooks with Linux on them to its customers. The L word there is simply scaring people away, for an abundance of reasons, all of which are fuelled by a sales staff that presumably have never had to sell Linux before. A simple sales patter could, in theory, accentuate the positives, and suggest that factors such as security alone score Linux a home run, yet that’s no use when half of the products in your store are dependent on a Windows world for their revenue.

Thus, Google is taking a wise, albeit inevitably controversial, decision. It’s doing the highest profile version of Linux that we’ve seen in a decade or so, and doing so without letting people into the secret that this is Google Linux by any other name.

For the Linux community, though, Google could be a perfect Trojan horse. Nobody is seriously suggesting that the house of Microsoft is about to topple courtesy of the announcement of one new product, but there’s a tangible shot at biting off a painful 5% of the market for Microsoft. And that’s far more likely to happen under the Google name than it is under the title of Linux. A harsh truth, perhaps, but the truth nonetheless…
It seems a fair trade-off, though. Let the substance be Linux, let the brand be Google, and let’s just take things from there…

Simon Brew
A former editor of Linux User & Developer, he spends his time moving between Windows, Mac OS and Linux. His desk also needs a thorough tidy-up.

This article first appeared in issue 80 of Linux User & Developer.