Does Google Chrome OS further fragment Linux landscape?

Six experts close to Linux weigh in

804. That's how many versions of Linux there are now, according to the definitive guide, DistroWatch.com. And yet people complain that six versions of Windows 7 is far too many.

When it is released open-source later this year, Google's Chrome OS will only add to what DistroWatch acknowledges is a "bewildering choice and ever increasing number of Linux distributions [that] can be confusing for those who are new to Linux."

The question is: Will Chrome prove destructive to Linux by further fragmenting the landscape or overshadowing other players, or will it provide the name recognition and engineering prowess to finally nudge the free operating system into the mainstream? Or both? Computerworld checked in with six experts close to Linux and the netbook space to see what they think.

Jim Zemlin, executive director for the Linux Foundation, which oversees development of the Moblin Linux OS for netbooks: "Linux and consumers are the true winners.... The more companies and manufacturers base their products on Linux, the stronger Linux becomes. Say goodbye to monopoly pricing."

Jeff Orr, analyst for ABI Research: "Yes, I do believe Chrome OS creates fragmentation and segmentation, but it also raises the overall tide. When you have an open model for development, you lack a cheerleader who pushes it. Ubuntu's great, but who's carrying the message [for Linux], creating the compelling application? We think Linux is getting pretty good momentum in the netbook category, and Google Chrome OS will reinforce that."

Jack Gold, independent analyst: "There is no such thing as [one] Linux. So this doesn't really add to the fragmentation of Linux, because it's always been that way. What it does do, however, is add complexity to the ecology of netbooks. I also think because Google wants apps to be written in AJAX or JavaScript app, they won't care if Chrome OS has a lot of drivers."

Gerry Carr, marketing manager at Canonical Ltd., which makes Ubuntu: "Is this becoming a straight-out fight where Google is trampling on open-source incumbents? I genuinely don't think so. We will continue to cooperate and share the same community to some degree. There is definitely competition and cooperation. This could help in terms of peripheral and driver support. It does complicate the landscape a little, but I don't see it as a direct threat."

Justin Steinman, vice president of solution and product marketing for Novell Inc., maker of Suse Linux and recent supporter of Moblin for netbooks: "Let's be clear, Google has Microsoft in the cross-hairs with this announcement. Novell is not concerned with Moblin v2.0 being overshadowed by Chrome OS.... [As for creating fragmentation], this is not really a problem. The vast majority of Linux distributions are using standard Linux kernels, which illustrates very well how mature the Linux kernel has become. A few exceptions exist like Google Android, amongst others. The availability of choice promotes open source in a global fashion. The general market has been using Linux pervasively for a long time now. Novell is convinced the market is ready for an alternative desktop now."

Connie Brown, spokeswoman for Intel, the original creator of Moblin and working with Google on Chrome: "We've had a long-time strategy to ensure a choice of software runs best on Intel's chips. More choice in this area will benefit the industry and likely speed innovation."

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Eric Lai

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