As a longtime observer of Linux, I, too, am excited about Chromebooks' prospects on the business desktop.
I agree wholeheartedly with my colleague's positive assessment of its chances -- Google's attractive pricing and packaging, security measures and brand name will no doubt boost Linux's stature in the desktop/laptop world, finally. Another core value -- the Chromebook's ability to serve as a hub and on ramp to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications -- makes the Linux PC a far more compelling alternative to Windows than past Linux desktop operating systems.
But I'll toss in five issues that will also no doubt present challenges for Google's latest open source operating system (and Android as well):
If it is as successful as the Chrome browser, the ChromeOS will enjoy a nice pickup in market share in no time. But its debut comes at an awkward moment, when business users are beginning to make the leap from the netbook to the iPad or tablet. In the last month or so, I've heard numerous reports that corporate purchasing agents are putting in orders for Apple iPad 2s. Even the Motorola Xoom -- which runs Google's other other open source Linux OS, Android 3.0 -- is getting a lot of attention because of its ultra portable form factor. Is the Chromebook a little late?
2. Mac Attack
It is breaking news that a Mac is no longer anathema in the corporate world. My brother is an IT guy and is taking iPad configuration orders for his business users on a daily basis now. It's the first time in his career that POs are getting okayed for anything other than a Windows desktop or laptop. My SO -- who has a mega collection of new and older Windows PCs and laptops in office-- was also told by the brass at that billion-dollar company to get an iPad 2 immediately. These are the kind of real world indicators that matter. Can the Chromebook or Android tablet, for that matter, curtail Apple's rise in the business computing world?
3. Marketing Issues
The beauty of open source is freedom and choice. Even Google is giving its audience of users a choice between two open source operating systems -- Android and ChromeOS. But will this present a conflict for users -- a fear of betting on the wrong horse? It's hard to say at this point. I, for one, have a DroidX and am looking at the tablet as my next choice. Should I go with a Motorola Xoom or an Acer ChromeOS? This will be tricky for Google's marketing arm. Another point: If Google aims to go after the business market, it must sign up a Dell or IBM to launch Chromebooks.
4. Fragmentation Issues
I guess i can accept the fact that Google will open source Android 3.0 when it is ready. But I wonder how Google intends to run that open source project -- and this ChromeOS open source project -- going forward. There are practical considerations that must be taken into account, especially the needs of device manufacturers. But Linux is Linux, and the rules of the GPL must be respected in order to maintain continued innovation and growth. Keeping developers happy is essential for the growth of Google-targeted applications and innovation on the OS front itself. Linux backers applaud Google's success, but their patience won't last forever.
5. Quality issues
I love using my Droid and DroidX, particularly since both devices run the Android open source operating system. But I do run into quality snags here and there that my fellow iPhone users do not seem to experience. Sometimes the touch pad does not work properly. Sometimes the device starts dialing numbers wildly. Sometimes it takes a long time for the OS to load up. I have talked to analysts to determine whether these are my bads, but am told that these issues are well known to Google. These are major headaches and ones that Google must resolve quickly. Will these quality issues take a back seat as Google tries to build a ChromeOS following? Google's focus on quality-- for both Android and the ChromeOS -- will be paramount here, especially as Apple makes headway in the business market. Both operating systems must run spectacularly, and bugs and security holes must be fixed quickly. Google already has problems with one of those operating systems. Why should I expect these quality issues to disappear with two to support in house?