Google dumps Windows. But can the rest of us?

Google is dumping Windows. But can the rest of us, realistically?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

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.

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