Matthew Garrett (mjg59) wrote,
Matthew Garrett
mjg59

Chrome OS

It turns out that I was entertainingly wrong a while ago, though I persist in claiming that this is an utterly ridiculous idea and I should be forgiven for thinking that Google were sane. The whole thing really still doesn't make sense to me. Worthwhile support of hardware is difficult. I'm going to take it as a given that Google aren't going to claim to support arbitrary hardware. People who would never otherwise try Linux will install it, and the state of many Linux drivers is sufficiently poor that it'd do a great deal to damage their brand. The logical assumption is that it'll be available pre-installed on devices where Google have worked closely with the hardware vendors.

Which concerns me somewhat. History isn't filled with compelling examples of this. Xandros's low-level support for the Eee mostly seemed to consist of a pile of shell scripts made of cheese and failure. The bizarro-Linux on the hilariously dodgy MIPS-based netbook I have is about as functional as my wisdom teeth. The best example of a Linux vendor working with OEMs is probably Canonical, and their enthusiasm for merging hardware support code in their OEM-specific distributions has led to things like touchpad gesture support based on using a known security hole or drivers that reimplement one that's already mainline.

What I'm trying to say here is that pretty much every desktop Linux product based on cooperation between OEMs and an existing Linux vendor has been built on top of a tower of shit. That's partly because it's a hard problem, but it's also because most OEMs produce dreadful Linux code and the Linux vendors don't have the resources to rewrite it in a clean way in the timescale permitted between hardware being finalised and shipping product. I haven't seen Google recruiting a larger than normal number of people with Linux distribution experience lately, so I suspect that the situation may be the same there. This is probably fine if the number of products is relatively small - there's an opportunity to QA them sufficiently to ensure that the rough edges underneath don't accidentally take someone's hand off. But otherwise there is a genuine risk that poor-quality devices will appear with Chrome OS and people will blame Google for the poor user experience.

So it seems like a risk for Google. Either there'll be a small number of devices and the same vague level of discontent that surrounds the fact that the number of shipping Android devices doesn't seem to have reached expectations, or a large number of potentially crappy devices. What's the payoff? It's pretty clear that this is going to be based heavily around Google's web apps, possibly with disconnected operation. That gets Google a lot of lockin. It also neatly sidesteps the entire disaster that has been providing application add-ons and updates for netbook Linux distributions. But it seems that Google could have achieved that by partnering with a distribution that already has experience in this field rather than going it alone.

I remain unconvinced that this is a sensible decision for Google. But then, I've already demonstrated that I don't have the faintest idea what's going on. Which probably puts me in the same field as most of the analysts I was bitching about before. Zounds. The irony.
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