Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

Summary: Google is dumping Windows. But can the rest of us, realistically?

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Google is dumping Windows. But can the rest of us, realistically?

According to the Financial Times, Google is in the midst of replacing all of its Windows-based desktop PCs with ones that run Mac or Linux, citing security concerns since the company was a target of a hack originating in China back in January of 2010.

This may be something of a shock to everyone, but Google has never really been completely reliant on the Windows platform, so this is a pretty easy "fix" for the company.

Google has been for some time using a variant of Ubuntu Linux in its massive server infrastructure and is pretty much a Silicon Valley poster child for Open Source adoption. So it's not that big of a stretch that they would eventually want to remove Windows from its Desktop OS infrastructure as well.

Given the fact that so much of Google's development is in Open Source, and all of their line of business apps are Cloud-based, it stands to reason that given the bleeding edge levels of Open Source adoption which the company enjoys, they can very easily transition its internal desktop users to both Mac and Linux.

I have my doubts about the "Mac" part, only because of the extremely stressed relationship that currently exists between the two companies, especially as it relates to their competitiveness in both the Cloud and Mobile spaces. A few hundred select Google employees may very well get a bunch of Macs, but I think we all know that the majority of them will be using Linux desktops.

This isn't that big of a deal. This is a company which literally dogfoods everything it produces before you or I ever get to see it, and just about everything they use is homegrown. For Google, dumping Windows for mostly Linux and some smaller population of Mac boxes for the developers that need them is frankly a bit anticlimactic.

A couple of weeks ago, I also transitioned off of Windows as my primary desktop OS on my home systems. For the exact same reasons and concerns Google cites -- security and malware.

But even so, I knew up front I could never truly LEAVE Windows completely. I had to virtualize it.

Even Google, which produces Windows software for end-users and developers in the form of the Chrome Browser, Picasa, Google Desktop and the Windows version of the Android SDK, will have to maintain a limited population of Windows systems, be it virtual or physical, if they expect to continue to produce software for the Windows platform, not to mention test compatibility with their various cloud apps and Windows data formats.

Granted, there are many end users who would be happy with Macs or out-of-the-box Linux distributions such as Ubuntu, Linux Mint, or openSUSE. Some people with more of a content consumption user scenario might even be completely served by appliances such as the iPad. But I'm not one of those people. Not yet.

I've stated the reasons for this previously as to why, at least for the time being, I still need to maintain at least virtualized instances of Windows for both my work and home systems. And it hasn't been easy going, but I put up with it, because like Google, I can understand and appreciate the benefits of being mostly Windows-free.

I've discovered that while virtualizing Windows works well for about 80 percent of the apps I need to use that aren't Linux native, the other 20 percent are a real pain in the ass.

I've gone into detail in past posts about the types of scenarios for end-users that could allow them to transition to Linux.

Google, I'm sure, has already gone through this sort of exercise internally and has figured out the best "life balance" in terms of desktop and Web-based applications that will allow their users to be completely productive without having any Windows desktops at all.

The question remains however, is if Google can dump Windows, can the rest of us?

For starters, let's talk about iTunes. Mac users have the luxury of being able to use iTunes natively and not having to virtualize it, but virtualizing the Windows version of iTunes is GOD AWFUL. It's hideous. You don't want to do it if you can avoid it.

You can scream at Microsoft for having created some of the most bloated end-user apps in existence, but nothing they've done compares to the steaming pile of crap that is iTunes for Windows.

Apple can complain all day about performance issues with Flash and how lazy those folks at Adobe are at programming, but maybe the company should look at its own Windows code sometime before throwing poo at its rivals.

iTunes behaves badly when it's running native on Windows, but even worse when virtualized. I experienced this first hand when I tried to sync my 1000+ EPUB book collection from Calibre to my iPad this weekend using the USB 2.0 virtualization on both VMWare Workstation 7.1 and Oracle VM VirtualBox 3.2.

After about two hours of screwing around on my primary testing workstation and watching the iTunes software crash continuously,  I just gave up and did it on the Dell Windows 7 machine natively in my wife's office, the only "on the metal" desktop Windows machine I maintain, just for these sort of things.

I also have my Windows 2008R2 Hyper-V box, but I keep that thing clear of desktop software other than VM instances of Windows OSes for testing purposes.

You'd think that iTunes on Windows was written so bad on purpose, as to entice PC folks to Get a Mac. But no, I won't insinuate such a horrible thing, no I won't. Apple's Windows programming staff is just plain incompetent. Yeah, that's it.

As I've said before, I'm Not Getting a Mac, especially just to solve the iTunes problem.

Then there's the really video-intensive and multimedia apps. I use a few video editing programs for Windows which perform poorly when virtualized, as does the SlingBox player, which I haven't found a solution for yet that doesn't require using a real Windows 7 machine.

Skype for Linux is also back-revved considerably, and using the Windows version when virtualized is pretty unpleasant. So when I need to do Skype recordings for podcasts, I either use my wife's Windows 7 desktop, or I plug in my Windows 7 SATA drive temporarily just for the occasion and then offload the data so I can process it in Audacity later.

Bear in mind I'm an advanced user and professional technologist, with several PC desktops and servers at my disposal. Your average end-user doesn't have the luxury of being able to do all of these things.

Google certainly has the money and the impetus to do so for its own end-users, but how much progress have they made or demonstrated that they can do this for everyone?

Yes, Android is a great Smartphone/Tablet OS. Chrome OS too has potential, but it's still very much incubator technology. Neither of these two platforms are yet desktop replacements, and I still think we're quite a ways off from The Screen, this despite my zeal for all things Cloud.

And while I think the iPad is a fantastic device, Apple is also probably 5 years away from replacing the Macintosh with something else that would serve the purposes of a next-generation content creation platform.

Dumping Windows -- at least as it means for most of us -- is not yet completely viable. Because as I have said many times, it's not just the OS, its all of the apps that go along with it.

Maybe Google can run its entire enterprise on Docs, but I won't say that for most of Corporate America.

OpenOffice.org was thought to have been one of the key steps towards eliminating Windows dependency, but since Oracle's takeover of Sun, its community has been seemingly stuck in the Open Source equivalent of the LOST purgatory. My colleague, Christopher Dawson, would even suggest that it was dead.

I'm hoping that someone else will pick up the mantle where Sun left off and re-invigorate the project. I'm not expecting Google to take the lead on desktop Office replacements because of everything they've invested in the Cloud with Docs, but I can certainly think of a couple of other large entities with a big stake in Linux and Open Source that could do this.

I won't count Oracle out altogether, but they definitely need to demonstrate some leadership here. Note to Larry Ellison: cut out the Tony Stark envy and get back to work.

So congratulations, Google. You've managed to ascend to a God-like level of Windows independence which most of us can only dream of. Now maybe you can help the rest of us mere mortals out.

Have you been able to truly eliminate Windows from your life? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: Software, Google, Operating Systems, Windows

About

Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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122 comments
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  • Yes, I have eliminated Windows--It's Ubuntu Lucid for me.

    Both Lucid Desktop and Server for my site.

    Folks,
    Most of you know how I feel about MS Windows.
    The level of risk in using Windows has become unacceptable.

    Please take the message regarding Google's decision to eliminate Windows from all internal use seriously.

    It is in your best interest to consider alternative Operating Systems.

    I personally endorse Linux, and specifically Ubuntu Linux.
    It is far superior to Apple OSX, doesn't require you to buy Apple hardware, and most of all is FREE.

    So, why not try Ubuntu Linux today?
    My comments here cannot be considered spam or 'off-topic'.

    If you need help or have questions about Ubuntu Linux, you can google to find my site. Just email or call and I'll try to help.

    Thank you.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz
    Dietrich T. Schmitz, ~ Your Linux Advocate
  • Of course we can .. and you can too Jason

    I made the 100% switch myself and I am also a heavy tech user, developing web applications for a living. iTunes? What about the plethora of media applications in a Linux OS? Banshee I hear is fantastic at providing pretty much all the features for an iPod you can imagine. Skype? What more features do you want in skype? You can web cast, conference and text chat. Do you really need the spangly new Windows interface that badly?

    And you are right, typically a regular user can do it with no problem. My girlfriend took to Ubuntu like a duck to water with next to no hand holding from myself (I was away for the first two weeks she used after installation). If she can handle Ubuntu, then anyone can!
    garethmcc
    • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

      @garethmcc iTunes is just one of the apps. Also, Banshee and the other Linux iPod apps haven't been updated for iPad yet, it won't do the the book sync stuff. I'm also heavily dependent on Microsoft Office and Visio.
      jperlow
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @jperlow Maybe its time for people to attempt to take control over what apps they are "told" to use? I'm not saying its viva la revolution time and whipping out the guillotines, but why not enquire with the powers that be about why you need to use those proprietary apps? Maybe they will surprise by admitting they had no idea there were alternatives?

        And an iPad? At the risk of sounding insulting .. an iPad? Seriously?
        garethmcc
      • Perhaps you need to revist your exclusions

        "...I?m Not Getting a Mac, especially just to solve the iTunes problem.

        Then there?s the really video-intensive and multimedia apps..."

        Now "I'm also heavily dependent on Microsoft Office and Visio."

        And yet Jason refuses the obvious platform? (Onmigraffle replacement for Visio, all other apps native) Bizarre!
        Richard Flude
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @Richard Flude my employer doesn't support OmniGraffe. All of our diagramming is done in Visio. And I could never deliver work products using Omnigraffe. The customers would never accept the deliverables in that format.
        jperlow
      • If only Onmigraffle supported Visio file format, stencils and/or templates;

        @jperlow. I've used the product for years to produce Visio files. You just have to dumb down what you're capable of producing.
        Richard Flude
      • Richard Flude...that is why the vast majority of us will never switch...

        to a Linux based software solution.

        We don't want to "dumb down" everything we do and live with a "good enough" mentality that comes from parity.
        Parity has always bred mediocrity and it always will. If the Linux world could be handed half of all of MS's business right now, it would be like the rich man giving half of his assets to his poor neighbor. Within months the rich man would be back to holding the amount of assets he had before and the poor man will be broke because he has no idea how to handle wealth. It's work.
        And we use Windows, w/o any security problems now for over 10 years, so I want to know what the problem is?

        You cannot get a more flexible software system out of the box that also delivers great integration, which the majority of company heads want. MS delivers economy of scale far beyond any other player and the software produces value for the company, not just Linux style automation that does nothing but duplicate what Unix was doing 50 years ago.
        Automating Payroll is not exactly a big sell anymore Rich.

        A software system that can be molded, out of the box for the most part, to fit a businesses goals and business processes with a bare minimum of coding is what MS software delivers.

        The ROI is very high and if you cost out MS software over it's normal 10 year lifespan you are looking a few bucks per client.
        JimGodofBiscuits
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @jperlow
        There is nothing a Windows desktop can do that a thin client running a secure OS accessing a Windows desktop virtual machine can't do. Moving the OS that provides the interface someplace safer seems like a good thing.

        Maybe someday you'll be able to give up your MS apps addiction as many have, or maybe not. In the short term though you don't need Windows on the box you can touch - you need Windows on the thing that draws the graphics you see, that provides the audio you hear. There's no reason why the OS that renders Office and Visio can't be running in a place run by people skilled in the management of Windows - and its reconstruction when the inevitable happens - and the device you interact with be somewhat more reliable. At least in that case you'll still have a device you can use to contact tech support, where they can map your Windows profile to a new VM and get you back in business.
        symbolset
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @jperlow I will forward this article to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!
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        disturbforce
    • Will miracles never cease!?

      A linux geek with a girlfriend! Wow.

      Now the way you threw those adjectives around about how this alleged gf was using a Linux based OS with ease leaves the thinking crowd to realize it's one of two things.

      Either you fabricated this story, which, again, with your zealous description, it could very well be the case as Linux users tend to fabricate a great deal. You could very well be using your blow up doll as the role of your gf and the rest is made up.

      The only other plausible possibility would be, of course, she could play the role of a Klingon in her natural state.

      LOL!!!
      JimGodofBiscuits
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @JimGodofBiscuits
        there are many women out there more capable than you, and very attractive. You assuming all women are either stupid or ugly just shows your complete ignorance.
        doh123
    • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

      Yup. My 76 year old retired art-educator mother had no problem using Ubuntu. Then when the fan broke on her computer and my dad brought it in for repairs, the repair man put Windows on and she's had nothing but Windows trouble since. Windows is a bloated closed-source mess, made by Microsoft for sale. Ubuntu is elegant and open source, made by people for people. The only reason Microsoft is still in business is because they abuse their customers with proprietary shenanigans. Pander to them and it only gets worse for you.
      leifharmsen
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @leifharmsen... ah ha haha! What a crap of sheet! Broken fan and a you get a new OS? Let's sit her down with a Linux desktop and my 80 y/o uncle with a windows system... let's see who can install a perfectly working HP multi-function printer faster and working better. Let's see who can get a high tech 7.1 HD sound card going faster and better! How about the thousands of unique peripherals makng production and work life easier. THEY ARE NOT RUNNING LINUX!

        You clowns that think people can just easily switch to Linux are very immature (like a monkey with building blocks). If you got the time to trial and error thru a bunch of Unix commands to get something done.. good for you. The rest of the productive world would rather stick to windows...

        And quit with the, granny uses Linux and she thinks it is easy bull... that just turns people off!
        SpankyFrost
      • The only reason!?

        @leifharmsen, why do the MS haters always use stale old FUD that nobody with a mind believes? I'm curious.
        MS broke from IBM and went on to partner with the clones to become the biggest success story ever. period.
        You like to talk about MS using it's "monopoly powers" without ever mentioning how they got to holding market leverage to begin with, which is the correct terminology.
        If you sold widgets and could get an exclusive deal with the best companies available to supply your widget hardware, you would not do it? Your benevolence is not admirable. To give away software cheats millions out of jobs. Jobs drive the civilized world and allow everyone to have a chance at a decent life. Your socialism has never been able to come close and never will as it fails miserably every time.

        Thank God the English speaking world of the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Australia are all capitalist countries or this world would not even have heard of the internet yet because it woiuld not have been developed.
        When MS broke from IBM and "built" it's empire (it didn't just magically appear as you and the ABMers must believe) it did so in the face of SUN, APPLE, IBM itself who was the king of the PC at that time but still could not compete with the lowly Microsoft....what about it? SUN was so ticked off that Gates saw the way they did everything they could to throw in middleware to try and get a piece of it, without ever being able to create a desktop system.
        Apple complained 9 years later during the trial but when did Apple try to compete with MS until around 2005 or so? They had a huge jump on MS and still just sat idly by, along with SUN, IBM and all of teh UNIX TITANS ans MS captured the bulk of the PC market.
        YOu going to tell me that MS somehow stopped SUN and APPLE and IBM from competeing using nefarious means that those titans could not overcome? Hey, I have a bridge I want to sell you.
        If not for the windows infrastructure arouind the world, the web would be 10 years or more behind where it is today. There would be no Google. There would be no ipods since if Apple was the only one building desktops, as they were, their output was so small and cost so high, the only people that could buy one was a rich person with more money than brains. 5000.00 for a Macintosh Lisa? Yeah, right leifharmsen.
        There was nobody, nada, there at that time (early 90s) ready to supply the world with a low cost home computer option. Linux was just being born and is still not fully mature.
        Your FUD about Windows is old and stupid. Windows 7 is the most secure OS on teh planet according to any security professional worth his/her salt. It's also the best and most useful OS on the planet. With linux you have ot build everything or dumb it down to get it to work.
        with MS you get a fully integrated and flexible solution out of the box that is more than easy to secure as a network (just because Google is not capable doesn't mean medium sized sites like mine don't go over 10 years w/o any security incident, period)
        Windows and MS client and server software suites sell in huge numbers to companies that want to use them. Take Sharepoint.....where is the "lock in" or what is forcing anyone to be buying that in the 100s of millions as they have? hmmm?
        Get real and let's talk about technology, not just spend every day claiming "my OS is better than yours and windows is crap". It only makes you look like a total fool and stupid.
        JimGodofBiscuits
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @SpankyFrost... I just about guarantee his mother will win. Why? Because I have an HP multifunction printer that won't work with Windows. The drivers from HP won't install and it won't work by plug and play. It simply works as soon as I plug it into my Ubuntu box...nothing to install or setup. It just works.
        storm14k
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @SpankyFrost, you're about eight years behind if you think you need to use Unix commands to install a printer. Ubuntu and most other distros have GUI utilities for installing printers that are analogous to what Windows uses. I've never had to use the command line to install a printer, even over the network. I'm a Linux user now largely because I can do just about everything in the GUI.

        As for who would get the sound card installed quicker, that depends on the sound card. For most, the old lady with Ubuntu will get it done first--the drivers will install automatically or be just three clicks away (plus typing in your password). If it's a really new sound card with proprietary drivers though, she might be calling her nephew to get it installed.

        Basically, your complaint about having to use the command line to install hardware is valid for discrete video cards that you want to use the proprietary driver for (especially NVIDIA cards). But most everything else installs automatically or through graphical interfaces.

        Don't worry, I have plenty of reservations about trying to convert people to Linux. But it's important to get your criticisms right. Converting to Linux has its own problems and complications, but having to go to the command line for everything isn't one of them. Those days are long gone, and good riddance to them.
        LeonBA
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @leifharmsen .....I have been in the computer Industry for 20+ years. In that time I have come to see the WINDOWS OS go straight down the toilet compared to LINUX based OS's which continue to thrive in almost every way. I always have and always will use a LINUX OS, I have six children who were brought up using Linux and still do to this day. My grandchildren and parents all also use Linux distributions. Windows was only popular due to it's ease of use for inexperienced end users. I hate to tell you windows users but Open Source OS's and software usage is growing at an unbelievable rate and soon closed source platforms will be a thing of the past! And all of you little Windows 'point & Click' geeks will actually have to learn something like Linux Command Line. Open Source is, and always has been, the only way to compute.....bye bye Windows! LOL!
        trapp3rb0y
      • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

        @SpankyFrost My grandpa wanted to print his taxes from a relatively new laptop running Windows Vista. I got it connected to our network printer and tried printing his taxes, nothing happened. After about an hour of trying to get it to work I decided "skroo dis", used the print a pdf option, sent it to my computer running Linux Mint, connected to the network printer with no trouble, and printed the page he wanted from the pdf. At his house I had setup his desktop computer (running Windows 2000) to share the printer on their network because no other computers had the correct port to connect to it, I managed to print a test page just fine, while his laptop was very iffy on whether it would print or even connect.
        chinoto
    • RE: Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

      @garethmcc I am looking forward for your next post, I will try to get the hang of it!
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      disturbforce