Google and the Linux desktop

My compadre, David Coursey, doubts that Google will actually be partnering with any hardware vendor to deliver Google Android to users as a desktop Linux. Actually, David, I'm sticking with that prediction.

Google will start rolling out its Linux desktop on netbooks. The company will begin there because netbooks are the only division of PC sales that's actually still growing.

Once they've established a beach-head there, they'll move into laptops and desktops. Keep in mind though that, as Michael Horowitz points out, that you can actually use a cheap netbook as a desktop replacement.

Google's goal? To set up a cloud-based set of Windows file-compatible applications that will work hand-in-glove with Google Linux-powered desktops. Google already has the applications: Google Docs, GMail, Google Calendar, etc. etc. Now, just add an operating system where they, and not the boys from Redmond, call the shots, and they're in business.

Now, add on to that that Google is already working on one thing that both David and I would like to see from SaaS (Software as a Service): cloud synchronization. You can already synchronize GMail and Google Calendar to your local PC. It's not too far from this to being able to sync all of your work on your home desktop, your office laptop and your netbook via the cloud.

Coursey's other practical objection to Google and the Linux desktop getting a place in businesses is its lack of Windows business network compatibility.

Actually, thanks to Samba, you can easily get Linux desktops to work with Windows domain-based networks. With Samba 3, the current release, you've also been long able to use Samba servers in a Microsoft AD (Active Directory) in both native and mixed mode. What you could not do, however, is run Samba as an AD domain controller or run it in a Windows Server 2003/2008 level Forest.

With Samba 4 coming, that won't be a problem for much longer. And, since Microsoft has been forced by the European Union to share their AD network protocol secrets with Samba, Microsoft won't be able to keep the open-source desktops out of its networks. Can't wait until then for full AD compatibility? In that case, try Likewise. It's worked well for me.

This isn't just theory by the way. I've been running a hybrid 24-system Windows, Linux and Mac OS network using Samba on Linux and Windows Server 2003 and 2008 for years.

What else? Exchange? I've been using the best Linux e-mail/groupware client, Evolution with Exchange servers for ages. Oh, and it also works just fine with GMail and Google Calendar.

If Google does indeed follow through with this, I think it could be the best thing that could ever happen to the Linux desktop. I know the differences between Ubuntu, Red Hat, MEPIS, openSUSE, Mint, Mandriva, and all the rest, but let's get real. Unless you're already a hardcore Linux user, you probably only know one or two of those names. But, everyone, and I mean everyone, knows Google.

Someone might not buy a netbook with Linpus Linux on it simply because they don't know what it is. With Google on the front? That will sell. Guaranteed.

So, when you look at the whole picture, I think both Google and the Linux desktop are more than ready to make the battle for the desktop a real fight. Since this can only work to Google's advantage and Microsoft's disadvantage, I'm still expecting to see the first Google Linux desktops to appear by the end of 2009.

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