Ask someone to name a Linux distro, and if you don't get a blank look, chances are good that they'll say Ubuntu. After all, Canonical's distro is regarded by many as the "default" Linux distro. But could Google's two-prong offensive with both Android and Chrome OS sideline other distros and push them into obscurity?
Now, before I offend Linux users, let me begin by saying that I'm well aware that Android and Chrome OS aren't fully-featured desktop operating systems. Both are cut down and customized for the job in hand. If you wanted to take a PC and give Windows the shove, then neither of these operating systems would suit your needs unless you radically changed the way you work.
Problem is, many people are radically changing the way they work. People are increasingly happy with cut-down PCs that come in the form of netbooks, and cut-down operating systems such as the iPhone OS on the iPhone and iPad, and Android and Symbian on smartphones. Folks are ditching expensive, resource-hungry desktop applications for smaller, lighter, cheaper, more focussed apps on devices such as iPads.
The problems facing Linux is that increasingly, people are turning away from monolithic operating systems (unfortunately, at the same time, we're turning to walled gardens/prisons, but that's another story). And Google is set to make its own Linux flavors a lot more available.
First, we're starting to see Android on installed on netbooks alongside Windows. Sure, small moves, but could be quite useful and appealing to those with Android handsets. Then there's Google's Chrome OS, which is scheduled to make an appearance on a whole range of devices costing around $400 during the second half of this year. While these devices won't appeal to the hardcore geeks out there, consumers and those who just want to get work done might appreciate the simplicity and efficiency of both the device and the OS.
Could Android and Chrome OS sideline other Linux distros? I think it could. After all, it's a company with huge reach, being able to put messages in front of millions of eyeballs daily. Google managed to take it's Chrome browser from 0% usages share to 7% in a little over 18 months, making it the #3 browser, behind Internet Explorer and Firefox. This figure alone should prove to anyone that you should not underestimate Google's power to influence.
Linux currently languishes with some 1% usage share. My betting is that Google can and boost Linux's usage share. But at the same time, this boost will mean other distros are sidelined.
The year of the desktop Linux might never happen, but Google could very well be a force to make it a significant player in the mobile market.