November 24, 2009

Response: Google Chrome OS. Or, how KDE and GNOME managed to shoot each other dead

Free Software Magazine today has an article by Tony Mobily with the title listed in above. I want to take a moment to address one fundamental flaw that I find in reading this article as well as maybe a few points that I can agree with. Warning: if you are a Gnome or KDE fan, developer, or somehow have ties to either, you might be put off a bit (or a lot) by the article. But I believe the article misses the whole point of Google Chrome OS!

The premise of the post is about how Google Chrome OS will destroy Gnome and KDE. In asking the rhetorical question "Which DE would Google choose, Gnome or KDE" for Chrome OS to be built on, the author states:
The answer was simple and painful: neither of them. Painful, because I am intimately sure (although I can’t prove it) that if GNU/Linux had one set of desktop libraries, one desktop environment, one set of standard for playing audio and so on, we would have those libraries in Google Chrome OS. Google would have released a set of tools to bundle software in Chrome OS — something without the absurd current problems of software installation in GNU/Linux.

To me, this misses the mark. And the article becomes permission to put down both for their lack of cooperation and unity. The article's underlying conclusion is that Google Chrome wanted to use Gnome or KDE but could not due to inherit problems in both desktop environments.

Now, I am not saying there are not problems with Gnome and KDE. The author raises a few and I will not argue them here. I will only say that I believe things are getting better all the time. My systems running Linux Mint KDE and / or Kubuntu are rock solid. Except for the most computer illiterate people out there, I have no problems recommending Linux Mint KDE or Kubuntu to anyone. Yes, there are potential snags here-or-there, but here's the point: comparing Google Chome OS to Gnome or KDE is comparing apples to oranges. Here's why.

Google is an online entity. Pure and simple. Knowing that, it's ludicrous to compare the two. Saying that the deficiencies in Gnome or KDE are why Google would choose neither makes no sense. Why would Google allow software installation on a system that the fundamental theme is "everything in the cloud"?

Take a quick look at Google's current product offering. Here's why the Gnome and KDE argument is irrelevant:

  • Google's target audience is small notebooks and netbooks. Internet appliances without dedicated graphics cards, multi-core processors, or large hard drives
  • Everything Google is online, all the time
  • There is no desktop in Chrome OS - the browser is the desktop
  • Google makes revenue from advertising. Something they do quite well
  • Google wants a fast startup time that goes straight to the internet

Knowing the target devices, and that Google knows you'll likely use Google products on a netbook running Chrome OS, giving users massive software libraries to install applications from makes no sense at all. Google Chrome OS is a thin-client system designed for small mobile computers using Google products in the cloud. Again, the bottom line is, "Gnome or KDE" becomes as irrelevant as "Windows or Mac" when there is no desktop at all.

It's like saying "Google didn't like the automobile because it's too big and clunky and potentially breaks down, so they invented a better automobile". When in fact the correct analogy might be more like "Google didn't like the automobile because it's too big and clunky and potentially breaks down, so for quick trips and to go fast they invented the motorcycle". This makes even more sense when you factor in that Google also happens to sell motorcycle parts, and advertising in the form of little stickers all over the motorcycle itself.

Are there things that can be improved on Desktop Linux in Gnome or KDE (or Xfce or LXDE)? Of course. The author states a few that I agree on. Sound remains an issue to some people. Certain hardware does as well (multi-function devices, for example).

In conclusion, the author states:
With Google Chrome OS, both KDE and GNOME are suddenly less relevant — and they will become less and less relevant as time goes by.

This last little bit is where I think the article looses any credibility in trying to sell Chrome OS as the poster-child for what Gnome or KDE should have been.

While Chrome OS will make a splash for small devices and netbooks, it doesn't even attempt to replace desktop Linux on notebooks or PC's.

Fundamentally, to say you have a computer that can not do serious office work (Google Docs just isn't there yet), listen to your CD collection, edit movies on, or the literally hundreds of other uses for a traditional computing application, and that it should replace Gnome and KDE - no wait - make them totally irrelevant - is just using the pending release of Chrome OS to take another occasion to bash desktop Linux.

If the author is attacking KDE and Gnome, it also attacks Windows and Mac for the same arguements he tries to make. And therefore misses the mark completely. The occasion is wholeheartedly undeserved.