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Editor's Note: Google May Hold Big Key to Desktop Linux

Jan 06, 2006, 23:30 (8 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Brian Proffitt)

By Brian Proffitt
Managing Editor

How much buzz can one company generate? Just when you thought there could be no more, Google gets another rumor attached to it. Google's going to buy Opera. Google's going to make PCs. Google's going to release a software package called Google Pack.

Jiminy crickets, the next thing we'll hear is that Google's going to launch a space probe and become the first Internet search engine on Ceti Alpha V. And folks might buy that, too.

Don't get me wrong, I have no ill will towards Google about this. They're just doing what they're doing--it's everybody else that's ascribing these courses of action to them. I just think it's funny how much the tech press fawns over them lately. And before you get on me about it, I did write a positive article about the company myself last Fall after an interview I did with Chris DiBona. In that piece, I indicated all of the open source development work that Google has been conducting and the plans it has to port much of its software over to the Linux platform.

And while all of this is certainly true, lately I have become to grow a bit more impatient with Google. It would be nice to have those applications ported earlier rather than later. What prompted this were today's reports about Google Pack. As I write this, there is no word from Larry Page's keynote on what the actual offering might be, but the preliminary reports that it will contain Firefox, Trillian, Norton AntiVirus, RealPlayer, Google Desktop Search, Google Earth, Picasa, Google Talk, and the Google Toolbar seem plausible. Of course, this Google Pack will be ready-made for the Windows desktop. And that is where my sense of impatience kicked in.

I am not one of those people who is going to moan and groan about "what has Google done for us"? I know what they have done, and Linux has benefited from their actions. But the advent of Google Pack, or even the possibility of such a package, has got me anticipating this for Linux. Because such a package would, in one huge jump, lend desktop Linux enormous credibility and functionality.

Of course, the Linux version of a Google Pack would have a couple of substitutions. Trillian would be replaced by Gaim. Norton AntiVirus would be right out (perhaps replaced by Thunderbird). Everything else, though would work just fine.

I don't think this needs to be about Google owing Linux. Granted, they have built a large part of their server technology on Linux and open source, but they have a business to run, and guilting them into porting their apps is a waste of time.

Instead, let's look at it from a business standpoint. According to DiBona, when I talked with him last fall, Google's plan to develop apps for Windows first is simply a matter of numbers. There are more Windows installs, so developing for Windows first is more cost effective. I certainly would not argue that. But while the number of Linux desktop installs is lower than Windows, porting their applications to Linux would give Linux a huge bootstrap up. More desktop Linux users would mean that developing for Linux would be a more efficient use of time. If Google makes the initial investment.

And, stepping into the customer service mode for a minute, developing for Linux would ultimately provide Google software users with a far more stable and secure platform than Windows. One of Google's axioms is "Do no evil." Does providing software for a platform that is known to be insecure and unstable fall satisfy this axiom?

Google is not the only company that will help Linux by porting apps. But Google has the most potential to help make desktop Linux a more attractive destination for the average PC user. Maybe it did not want to be in this position, but it has it nonetheless.

I think we could be forgiven for being a bit impatient.