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Google and the Desktops (or Laptops)

Posted in GNU/Linux, Google at 4:12 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

Summary: How Google’s operating system for desktops and laptops is shaping up, and what can be said about it from a freedom advocate’s perspective

GOOGLE’S Chrome OS, which is becoming one of the world’s most widespread GNU/Linux distributions for the desktop, is receiving more coverage these days [1] (it’s mostly positive and optimistic). Capitalising on the success of Android and increasingly converging with it [2] for development [3] and apps, Chrome OS seems to have a future of relatively high presence if not worldwide domination (Chrome OS is for desktops and laptops, not mobile devices, which is where Android now dominates). Chrome OS very much revolves around the Web browser, which is not surprising given Google’s core business.

Recently, in order to improve perceptions of Chrome security, Google offered cash prizes [4] and tackled allegations of eavesdropping (by accident [5-8]). There are some attempts, including poor ones [9], to discredit Chrome using “security”, especially now that a new release comes out [10-12], eliminating Flash in the process (at least for GNU/Linux and its Free version of Chrome, called Chromium [13]).

Chrome OS and Chrome are proprietary, but they have Free/open source surrogates, Chromium OS and Chromium. They are privacy-infringing, but they are generally more benign than the proprietary software which still dominates in desktops and laptops.

Related/contextual items from the news:

  1. What Chrome OS Needs to Expand Adoption

    Back in 2012, I did a comparison between Chrome OS and Ubuntu. I examined the areas where each operating system differed and I also touched on a few of their similarities. In this piece, I’ll take it a step further and examine how Chrome OS is close to filling the OS gap, yet might need some improvements in key areas before the masses begin dumping Windows to migrate to it.

  2. Chrome apps come to Android
  3. Google Delivers Developer Tools for Apps for Android and iOS

    It was back in September of last year that the Google Chrome team delivered an extensive post up heralding “packaged apps” that work with Chrome, which the team obviously felt could become a game-changer for Google’s browser. “These apps are more powerful than before, and can help you get work done, play games in full-screen and create cool content all from the web,” wrote the Chrome team. Many of us have tried some of these apps and experienced how they make the browser feel almost like an operating system underlying applications.

  4. Pwnium hackathon: Google offers nearly $3 million in rewards
  5. Chrome Eavesdropping, Balkanized Internet & More…

    It’s convoluted and unlikely, perhaps, but there’s a way that websites can trick the Chrome browser into leaving the mic open, allowing who knows whom to eavesdrop.

  6. Speech recognition hack turns Google Chrome into advanced bugging device
  7. Google dismisses eavesdropping threat in Chrome feature
  8. Security Alert: Google Chrome

    Right now I’m glad I never used Chrome.

  9. Spammers buy Chrome extensions and turn them into adware

    Changes in Google Chrome extension ownership can expose thousands of users to aggressive advertising and possibly other threats, two extension developers have recently discovered.

  10. Chrome 33 Beta: Custom Elements, Web Speech Synthesis
  11. New Google Chrome 32 Release Fixes Mouse Pointer and Quicktime Issues
  12. Chrome 33 Beta: Custom Elements, Web Speech, and more

    Today’s Chrome Beta channel release kicks off the new year with a slew of new features for developers ranging from Custom Elements, to web speech synthesis and improved WebFont downloading. Unless otherwise noted, changes apply to desktop versions of Chrome and Chrome for Android.

  13. Use Chromium on Linux? Adobe Flash Will Stop Working From April

    Google are to drop support for the ‘Netscape Plugin API’ (NPAPI) – used by Adobe Flash – on Linux builds of Chrome/ium far sooner than was originally planned.

    The ageing plugin architecture, which allows for unrestricted access to a computer, is considered inefficient and insecure, with Google calling it ‘the leading cause of hangs, crashes, and security incidents’.

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  1. linuxcanuck said,

    February 1, 2014 at 8:35 am


    I am not sure if I read this right. I had to read it twice. You have trashed Canonical and Ubuntu which is FOSS repeatedly for having spyware included just because they have a scope linking to Amazon which does the actual spying. It is removable and you can turn it off but the inclusion alone is enough to cause you and RMS to go into spasms.

    Then you laud Chrome OS which you say is proprietary but included FOSS components and is released by the spying-est company on the planet.

    It makes you wonder if you have your head screwed on right or if you are softening your stance selectively.

    FTR, I do not use either Ubuntu or Unity.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    If you examine what I have said, then you’ll see that there is no anomaly. I generally emphasise (for years now) that Chrome OS is a GNU/Linux distribution, just as Ubuntu is (these are facts), and I generally call Chrome “spyware” and complain about Android and Chrome OS being privacy-infringing. I wrote about it hundreds of times in different places on the Web. By the way, in Stallman’s draft about Ubuntu he called it “malware”, but I advised him to change it to “spyware”, I don’t endorse spyware. I never really endorse Chom* anything or *buntu anything.

    In this particular article, I begin by saying we’re looking at Chrome/ium from a freedom advocate’s perspective. I then note that it is capable of taking over big segments of the market, irrespective of what it means to freedom and whether we like it or not. In the second paragraph I speak about attempts to say that Cheome/ium is not secure, even though IMHO it’s no worse than counterparts, especially under Windows. For the OS, my main concern is stuff that infringes privacy (I never use Chrome under Android and I ask Android users not to use it either).

    My last paragraph says that Chrome OS and Chrome are proprietary and privacy-infringing. It says that this is still not as bad as Apple’s Mac OS X and Windows because these ones don’t even have Free surrogates. There are other reasons, but I don’t delve into everything.

    My stance on Ubuntu is, if you are going to select a GNU/Linux distribution, then don’t go for Ubuntu. That said, i very much support those who replace Windows with Ubuntu and I am happy that Canonical helps popularise GNU/Linux (e.g. in Korea).

    If you think I am not consistent, then I probably failed to explain myself well. I will try better next time.

  2. linuxcanuck said,

    February 1, 2014 at 11:33 am


    I have followed TR and BN for a long time. It is refreshing to read positive pieces like this one. I just think that if you are being open minded that you eed to make a habit of it.

    RMS’s hit piece against Ubuntu was two months after the fact. It did not account for changes that Canonical had made. It was nothing more than a desperate call for attention for his self-promotion and lecture tour. This is illustrative of most of Canonical critics. They use their criticism for their own ends. It is petty and sour grapes.

    Nobody has to use Ubuntu. Its success does not affect other distributions. They can either take the same road or one of their own. There is no need to try to build something at the expense of something else.

    I would never label let alone mislabel it. It is what it is and people can use what they choose. That is the essence of freedom. That is something that RMS does not accept. At the heart of it is that he does not believe in free choice.

    Techrights is a good critic of proprietary. My opinion is that it needs to also be open to promoting all distributions and allow people to choose based on information and not labels and narrow opinion. Calling names and using derogatory terms does not help. It hinders because it belittles those who use them more than the ones that you seek to criticise. We shoot ourselves in the foot when we needlessly in-fight.

    I recommend Ubuntu for those who would benefit from it. I recommend other distros that are appropriate for them. There is no one distro to rule them all.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    I still write many positive things about Ubuntu, but when mistakes are made we need to draw attention to them, at the very least because we have the power to change things (Mono in Ubuntu by default, Yahoo — i.e. Microsoft — search by default in Ubuntu).

    When RMS wrote about Ubuntu he had already seen the EFF’s stance. RMS and the FSF — like myself and others — are very strong proponents of privacy, so the trend was worrisome. There is some “facebookisation” in some areas of Linux, especially Android. People are turned to products as part of a core business model. Monetising people’s perceptions or selling people’s thoughts is not benign.

    I am writing this from a Kubuntu laptop and I still accept people’s use of Ubuntu, it’s just not the distribution I would recommend first (usually, for new users, I’d recommend Mint, which is based on Ubuntu).

    By the way, Canonical is a client of the company I work for. I have set up quite a few Ubuntu servers.

  3. linuxcanuck said,

    February 1, 2014 at 1:34 pm


    We need to criticise constructively. Nobody deserves a free ride and mistakes made need to be addressed. The problem with the Ubuntu scope and RMS was one of timing. The storm was over by almost two months and Canonical had addressed the issue when he jumped in and then labelled a whole distribution as spyware based on one scope that was easily uninstalled and no data was being collected by Canonical.

    Mint too has made its share of mistakes. I cannot recommend Mint because it has no upgrade tool and because they have two bad DEs, Mate and Cinnamon. They have a development problem that nobody wants to talk about. They are not in the same position that Ubuntu was vis a vis Debian, with scads of paid developers. They risk going the way of PCLOS who trash talked Ubuntu. Too high expectations and not enough developers can send you in a tailspin.

    Ubuntu, love or hate it, has never tried to gain users by tearing down the work of others. The bad blood with Debian was one sided and that has subsided as each has gone in polar opposite directions.

    I prefer to think of Linux (sorry GNU/Linux does not work for me) as having distributions that appeal to categories of users. Ubuntu and Mint do not compete in my own mind. Mint is often trotted out as being newbie friendly, but I think not because it has no upgrade tool. Editing sources is not a newbie skill. Mint should be for average skill users who are used to Windows and Ubuntu is for newbies who want a more Mac-like experience. It is really a matter of matching the person with the appropriate distribution.

    We have lots of great distros and there is something good about each one. We can focus on the bad or the good and I prefer to focus on the good. I read most of what TR publishes and it is more positive than it once was and that is something that I like to see. I hope the old days of calling W7 Vista 7 is over. Respecting your opponent is important if you want to have credibility.

    Dr. Roy Schestowitz Reply:

    Thanks, but one thing I must still ask: how did Canonical address the issue? It never really prevented Amazon from accessing an identity (IP address).

  4. linuxcanuck said,

    February 1, 2014 at 4:25 pm


    Yes, but this same thing would happen if a user used a web browser instead of the scope. Users do not have to use the scope or they can disable it or they can remove it.

    Nobody was saying that tracking wasn’t going to happen if they used the scope. But to say that Canonical was spying and that the whole distribution is spyware is way over the top and a complete distortion.

    Users concerned about privacy do not use Ubuntu and most other distributions, they would use something else. Users of Ubuntu want choice and freedom. If you want restrictions then you should use Debian and if you want complete anonymity and privacy then use Tails.

    What users need to know is the truth and not distortions. This is what happens if you use this. If you do not want that to happen then do this instead.

    I lost lots of respect for RMS over that issue. Had he mentioned it in September instead of December then it would have shown that he was interested in making things better. By mentioning after the fact when it was all over he was in it for himself and did not care about Ubuntu or its users.

    My idea of helping is to care about making things better for the users. RMS is not a user and did not care about the outcome. He only wanted his name in the news. And that is my biggest problem with GNU/ FSF. They are yesterday’s news and have to be controversial to get attention.

    If they wanted to make things better for users then they would be working on advancing the cause and not in turning back the clock. The best thing they did was GPL. For that I am grateful. Everything else is slipping from their grip. There is less and less of their work in Linux each year.

    I want to give respect, but they are making it difficult with their antics. Most Linux users do not care about even the GPL. They have their work cut out for them and are on the wrong track to get the message out.

    I appreciate what TR is doing. You have passion, but sometimes show weakness by not being able to resist taking shots.

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