How Chrome OS Will Help Ubuntu
Many writers, including WorksWithU’s Joe Panttieri, have suggested that Google’s recently announced Chrome OS is bad news for Ubuntu and other Linux distributions struggling to establish a foothold on the desktop, especially in the netbook market. While only time will tell how this development will really pan out, I’m not so convinced it will be to Canonical’s disadvantage. Here’s why.
There’s no denying that Google enjoys magnitudes more mindshare and capital than Canonical can dream of. But these assets don’t translate into necessary success in the desktop operating-system market, especially on netbooks, at which Google’s new OS is aimed.
Succeeding where other Linuxes have failed?
After all, if there’s one thing that the failure of Linux on netbooks has proven (and yes, it’s time to admit it was a failure), it’s that most mainstream consumers view netbooks as mini computers that should be able to do everything larger computers can–which includes running Windows applications. No matter how many times they’re warned that netbooks are really only designed for web browsing, and that Linux behaves differently from Windows, most non-geeks head to the returns department when they discover that their netbooks don’t run the software they’re used to.
Despite this reality, Google thinks that Chrome OS–which is ultimately just another Linux distribution, whether Google wants to admit it or not–will succeed in a niche where Ubuntu has failed despite considerable effort. This belief reflects either arrogance or miscalculation.
Sure, almost everyone who’s used the Internet in the last ten years knows and loves Google, which is more than Ubuntu has going for it. But that doesn’t mean the average consumer is going to be any less upset when she purchases a netbook running Chrome OS and discovers that it can’t run Microsoft Office.
While Chrome OS isn’t any likelier than Ubuntu to win over the masses afraid to leave the Windows bubble, its presence in the marketplace–even if it’s not as successful as Google hopes–will serve the useful purpose of reminding consumers, for the first time in two decades, that Microsoft and Apple are not, in fact, the only developers of operating systems in the world.
Although the destruction of the “Mac vs. PC” myth might not mean Ubuntu’s market share will surge overnight, it will teach non-geeks that there are alternative operating systems that most of them never knew existed. And that realization can’t do anything but help Ubuntu.
In short, I’m not convinced that Chrome OS will steal Ubuntu’s precious market share to any meaningful extent. But it will inspire more consumers to think outside the Windows/OS X box. In that scenario, Ubuntu has nothing to lose, and everything to win.