My search for a “GNU/Linux ‘Shiny’ OS” to be a minimum-cost competitor to Google’s Chrome OS

I think I’ve made it fairly clear that I don’t completely trust Google not to behave like IBM or Microsoft or Apple (in music), if they find themselves in a position of monopoly power in services. I believe there is a significant possibility that the UK government are soon going to jump out of the Microsoft frying pan, into the everlasting fire of Google services, using support for Free and Open Source Software as their excuse. This will delight their Google handlers and perhaps earn them a tickle of their cash-hungry bellies.

As I pointed out in a recent post, use of the Linux kernel and free-to-use services no longer guarantees you any real Freedom. We face a future where cheap Google Boxes in our houses and Google phones in our pockets/handbags will be the portal through which every message we send or receive passes. It seems likely that Google Chrome OS and Android will merge in some way, into an impenetrable fortress, keeping our data safe for us and Google and our government.

We need an alternative. The Free Software movement seems to be blindly following Google towards a destination of its own eventual destruction. What happened to the community’s ideals? Are we so easily bought?

I’m looking for an alternative way forward. I want a simple web and application server constructed and run on FOSS services, available from multiple providers because “The Market is Good” and “Competition Benefits the Consumer”, RIGHT? I only want to use server software that I could take away and have run elsewhere if I was not happy with my service provider and I want a web-based client that uses entirely open Web standards with no proprietary extensions “for greater power” (see: Chrome.) Obviously, as a Real Linux we have the option to also enable local desktop applications, rather than drive consumers to our company shops.

Please tell me if you think there is an obvious alternative FOSS solution to the Google monLOLopoly. If there isn’t then we need to elect one soon because democracy needs choices to stay viable. Our ‘choice of Freedom’ is at risk.

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4 thoughts on “My search for a “GNU/Linux ‘Shiny’ OS” to be a minimum-cost competitor to Google’s Chrome OS

  1. I think that you have written a really interesting and thinkable post. I haven’t thought about it this way for awhile, even though I would like to have my desktop only using free software (unfortunately I can’t for the moment being). The beauty of the distributions using the Linux kernel is that there are many of them. But on the other hand, for a newbie user the “jungle” of distributions may scare them away.

    I guess that the business model isn’t a good model for managing computers. By that I mean that the businesses are driven by money and therefore may incorporate proprietary components in the machine/distribution (as in the Chromebooks). And with businesses that manages distributions, they may disregard the thoughts of the community (for example when Ubuntu changed from Gnome to Unity as their window manager).

    In my opinion it would be nice to have a community that can manage computers with a GNU/Linux distribution pre-installed. Preferably also providing support for the machines, but without the “RTFM” type of personality, rather with a helpful, service-minded support. But I don’t know if that would be the best solution. Probably we could get somewhere by talking with different GNU/Linux communities.

    1. Thanks. I’ve been using only Linux as my home desktop for many years. I don’t consider myself a Unix/Linux expert. I don’t see why Linux has a reputation for being difficult to use, as long as you are doing ‘normal’ office things. Things might get more difficult if you want to play games, edit videos or use esoteric hardware. This particular post was about making life even simpler though, by having a the bare minimum of an OS kernel and a browser. That doesn’t leave much to go wrong. If we can’t use Google Drive or Microsoft Office apps on a Linux box then I don’t think Google and Microsoft should be trusted as suppliers of web services.

      One of the key ideas of Free software is that organisations have to earn their living by providing services rather than selling software licenses. You can buy support from the large providers or find another company to provide support, either locally or over the phone. I haven’t tried this but I would expect the level of expertise to be higher than a typical Windows support organisation. Different Linux distributions’ communities certainly have their own ‘cultures’ in terms of friendliness of the people giving free help. There are many distros but only a few with a community behind them. No-one seems to see this as a problem when buying a car.

      I agree that Canonical handled the move to Unity very badly and many people have moved to a different distro in protest, because they can. I think Canonical meant well but they moved too fast and they didn’t change ‘hearts and minds’ or get other distros to move. You don’t have to leave though. You can also choose to change back from Unity to Gnome or add the ‘Start menu’ back into Unity because Linux allows you to choose.

      1. I don’t see myself as an expert in Unix/Linux either. I started using Fedora back in 2009 or 2010, and somehow totally switched to GNU/Linux in 2011 from Windows Vista. What I meant before was that I would like to have a fully free operating system, such as Trisquel, but unfortunately that operating system doesn’t work as seamlessly as I would like on my desktop.

        I don’t know if Linux will be more popular in the future, but there might be some indications that it will happen. Valve is working on SteamOS, a distribution based on Debian. You probably can play Steam games on Linux more easily then. KDEnlive is an interesting video editing software, that holds some interesting features. But since I don’t edit videos, I really can’t say how well it works.

        Time will tell if those projects will draw more users to Linux. Probably you have heard about webconverger or Instant WebKiosk? As I have understood, they work more or less like Chrome OS. You basically get a web browser and that is the only application that you can use on the desktop.

        I am happy with my Linux desktop that I have for now. It works as it should, and really isn’t only about constantly editing text files. Even if it eases the administration of the machine, you can do most administrative stuff with a GUI.

        I forgot to mention before that you have got a really neat blog with really interesting thoughts. I would like to see more blogs like this one!

      2. Thanks again. I hadn’t thought about looking at web kiosk software. When I last looked, they were fairly complete distros trying to look as much like Windows as possible, for the ‘Internet cafe’ market.

        I don’t play games so I haven’t looked closely at SteamOS but I have mixed feelings about what I do know. It’s great that good games will be available on Linux PCs for those who want them but if it comes at the price of establishing a ‘games service’ monopoly instead of an OS monopoly, we won’t have gained much.

        If a normal home user can’t do everything they need from the GUI then I consider Linux to have failed. It’s great that text files are there for logging, analysis and debugging and configuration files and scripting are available for automation at scale but it shouldn’t be any harder to do a simple thing on Linux than it is on Windows or OS X or we shouldn’t expect people to choose it. The people who think that every simple problem is best addressed by a kernel patch annoy the hell out of me šŸ™‚

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