Saturday, May 11, 2013

Google Chromebook Advances as Linux on the Desktop Spins its Wheels

by Dietrich Schmitz

It's the same situation only a different day.  Watching may be a non-scientific way to get the pulse on those Linux Distributions which are trending up or down, but it's the only method we have for gauging what is happening, unless we can measure sales reported by a commercial Distro. (Image credit:

Ubuntu, ChromeOS, and SuSE, are the only commercial Distros which are marketing Linux Desktop systems.

With the exception of Chromebook, none is doing measurably well in the U.S. market.  Neither Canonical nor SuSE Gmbh furnish sales data that can be relied upon.  Google's Chromebook on the other hand is the only real Desktop system with sales now coming from multiple OEMs and, in addtion to the U.S., is expanding into six new markets.

The developer community hasn't taken an interest in enhancing Chromium OS, the source code of which is freely downloadable.  I would have thought by now, someone would have taken the 'best parts' of Chromium OS and forked a new Distro using Google's own Aura Window Manager.

Still, Chromebook sells because, well, it is truly simple and easy to use.  And, who cares what is under the hood?  It just works.  The OEMs are quite happy to sell such devices, especially now with the newest Linux Kernel 3.9 providing full device driver support for internal/external Chromebook devices.  Only, it's the same process that Microsoft has used to work closely with OEMs on hardware certification that has made Windows historically a success.

However nice open source is, there is at present a lack of cohesion and sufficient direction.  There are many divergent conflicts of interest which pull at the fabric of the Linux ecosystem each driving its own agenda resulting in confusion.

Canonical chose to avoid upstream conflicts of interest by creating their own graphical user interface, Unity.  They have spawned a new Ubuntu Touch software branch for touch-driven devices, e.g., tablets and smartphones.  And surprisingly, Canonical sponsored development of Wayland as a replacement for only to take the first iteration, version 1, and fork it to their own branch called Mir.

It seems that Canonical are once again exercising control and not chancing any upstream hindrances with work being done on Wayland, I can only surmise.  Given Canonical is privately held, there is no way to determine what their sales have been and while Dell do sell the Sputnik Laptop, this is an exotic device priced sufficiently high to yield low and narrow sales to Developers.  There simply aren't enough SKUs devoted to Ubuntu-based Desktop systems in the U.S.

SuSE Gmbh has a financial relationship with Microsoft which extends and renews the interoperability agreement negotiated by Novell's Ron Hovsepian and Microsoft's Steve Ballmer in 2006.  The most recent renewal was made in July of 2011 and SuSE received a $100 million cash infusion.  The renewal has a four-year term in which Microsoft's 'voucher system' allows sales of Windows system infrastructure to piggyback on the sales of SuSE systems.  But, that is largely for server-side business with SuSE Linux Enterprise Server and Desktop sales are negligible.

So, it's remarkable to note that however many factions and different interests there are in the Linux Desktop ecosystem, Linux on the Desktop continues to spin its wheels whilst Google Chromebook gets traction and continues to grow market share.

-- Dietrich
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