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On Google Chrome, ChromeOS, Chromecast, and the Lesser Benign

Posted in GNU/Linux, Google at 3:59 am by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: Thoughts about Google’s self-branded free/libre Web browser, operating system (not just Android), and efforts which extend that to surveillance-rich computing (“cloud”) with DRM

WHEN Google first introduced the world to Chrome it was a Windows program (in 2008). Google has an iffy history when it comes to desktop GNU/Linux, but in recent years, especially now that Google is selling Chromebooks (running GNU/Linux), there is a gradual change of policy. GNU/Linux itself is improving, which makes it easier for Google to serve applications and service to GNU/Linux users.

The other day Chromebase was introduced [1]. It is basically a GNU/Linux computer which looks similar to an Apple iMac. Chromebase, as the name suggests, runs a locked-down operating system similar to Apple’s. This is where Google seems to be taking GNU/Linux, for better or for worse. People’s positions on this vary; some say it’s a good thing (attracting more users), others say it’s a step in the right direction, and some say that it’s a distraction which takes us further away from freedom-respecting GNU and Linux.

Then there’s Chrome, the Web browser. Android usually comes with it and they are difficult (if not impossible on some devices) to decouple. Version 31 recently came out [2,3], promising PDF viewing and Voice Search (lets Google record, then indefinitely retain one’s search strings and also voice) [4,5]. Google is eager to get developers involved in Chrome extensions (or Android extensions) [6], introducing Chromecast to them as well [7] (may include a lot of DRM). The main problem with the browser (Web-facing) layer is that interaction with distant/remote servers makes surveillance (domestic or overseas) very simple. Chrome hardly tries to prevent this and by default it is quite privacy-infringing, based on my findings over the years. Then there’s the problem with DRM, which Google now advances as part of Web standards (threatening the Internet as we know it, not just by abandoning net neutrality).

The sure thing is, Chrome and other well known browsers are becoming rather heavy (too many features at the core) while simpler, lighter options exist [8] (I like Rekonq myself). The same goes for operating systems. It does not, however, mean that the big and potentially clumpy options are bad; it’s just that in practice they’re being optimised not for performance but for surveillance, lock-in, capturing of one’s tasks (even PDF readings/multimedia), and tying to various online service (YouTube, Microsoft's surveillance-friendly search, or remote-stored bookmarks).

Google — like Ubuntu — shows that just because something is free/libre software does not automatically make it benign.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. Does the LG Chromebase look too much like an iMac?

    Is the LG Chromebase too much like an iMac? And will Apple sue because of it?

  2. Google Launches Its Latest Chrome Web Browser, Version 31

    Chrome 31 includes some 25 bug fixes to the world’s most popular Web browser.

  3. Google Chrome 31 out now

    Google Chrome for Mac, Windows, and Linux has reached version 31, bringing the features we saw in the Chrome beta. In this update you’ll find…

  4. Google: Chrome safer than Acrobat for PDFs

    Google’s François Beaufort has confirmed that starting with the Chrome Canary release for developers, users who have downloaded a PDF while in Chrome will find that the browser itself opens the file, rather than the native application.

  5. Google Delivers Voice Search Hotword Extension for Chrome
  6. Google Woos Developers with Packaged App Strategy, Updated Plumbing

    At its recent Chrome Developer Summit, Google officials made more clear than ever that they see the Chrome platform as a strategic on-ramp for Google’s services, with packaged apps and mobile apps playing a central role in that effort. As I’ve been covering recently, Google Chrome is, effectively, behaving much more like an operating system, in the sense that it is gaining plumbing and services that make it an effective springboard for applications.

  7. Google: Hey, devs – grab ahold of our Chromecast pipe and work it

    Google is working on a webbified development to build the “next generation” of Chrome Apps.

  8. 5 lesser-known browsers: Free, lightweight and low-maintenance

    Are Internet Explorer, Firefox or Chrome slowing your machine — or are they simply more than you need? We look at some alternatives.

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