Will someone please kill one of Google’s heads?

Ah, Google. They run all of their servers on GNU/Linux, so try to give back to the Free Software community. Notice how I said “try”. Google is sort of like a two-headed monster. One head looks like a cuddly penguin who just wants to spread freedom.  This head started GSoC and GHOP, supported Software Freedom Day, and promoted openness through projects such as Android.  The other head looks like a vicious freedom-eating butterfly, ready to make money with proprietary software.  This head made Google Earth proprietary, used Flash for Youtube and Google Video, and prevented the other head from using the AGPL. It is obvious which head said “do no evil”, and which head invalidated that motto.

Google’s heads settled on an agreement. They would make an “open source” web browser named Google Chrome. The source code would be publicly available under a Free Software license, but it would require a 400+ MB download and 10 GB of space to compile. It would be available for both free and non-free platforms, but the non-free platform (that built only under a non-free compiler) would be released before the free one even built properly.

I found a Windows computer to test this so-called “Google Chrome” on. The installation was kind of a pain, because the install file didn’t have all of the required components. It had to download additional stuff during the installation. I suppose, though, that’s what you get when your system doesn’t have dpkg or yum… The only benefit I found was the speed of the V8 javascript engine.  It was noticeably faster, and javascript speed tests confirmed my observations.  The javascript caching made this already fast javascript engine even faster.

Cutting a few milliseconds off a stress test isn’t going to make me switch browsers anytime soon, though, not even when that browser will eventually support my operating system. It is a fad.  Some sites have reported that 2% of users are using Google Chrome. The purpose of Google Chrome seems to be to provide a framework for transforming the “traditional” operating system to a web-based one. Dumb idea. Firefox already works great for web services. That’s all we need. Google is spending all of this time trying to figure out how to integrate their services into the desktop. They come to the conclusion that all they need to do is A) make it available when you aren’t connected to the internet, B) make it faster, and C) make it not look like a web browser. For the majority of people, this doesn’t cut it. There are just so many other glitches. People are constantly saying “everything will be web-based” and “tomorrow’s operating system will be a web browser”. I don’t buy it. The world isn’t web-based yet. Until all computer users have internet access, nobody will switch completely to the web.I hope that everything will never be web based.  The biggest problem with becoming completely web-based is competing companies. If you use Company A, you can collaborate with people who use Company B and Company C. Company D only lets you collaborate with Company B, and Company E has a partnership with Company F. Data will be locked off in a similar way to proprietary standards today, but there will be a new problem. Open File Format advocates today use the analogy of sending your most valuable data off to a company, and hoping they give it back. This would literally be true with a web-based world. Think about it: your data is on some remote server, in some SQL database, run by some web application that nobody can look at or change. How do we know Google’s code isn’t relying on “average users” not knowing that the password-unprotected administration section is located at: http://www.google.com/admin_section_dont_go_here_2b49ac39593f3?  (You would be surprised at how many well known sites do this!)  Do we trust Google, or any other company for that matter, with our data?I predict the future will be semi web based.  After a while, more projects like EyeOS will sprout up.  They will allow you to use online word processors, operating systems, or whatever, but they will let you host them from your own computer.  People will have complete control over their data, yet they will be able to access it from anywhere and easily share it with anyone.  Google won’t lead us down this path, though.  Google is like any company: it wants money.  It will continue to use Free Software as a platform for locking users into its products.

The evil butterfly head won.

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Published in: on September 14, 2008 at 12:37 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 Comments

  1. Not to mention that allowing a Webkit-based program to recieve possibly untrusted data from the Internet is a sure-fire way to get your computer compromised. We have Apple to thank for that. Let’s hope Gnome sees sense before it switches away from Gecko.

  2. @Chris Lees:
    Wow…a baseless comment? What does it matter what engine your browser is running? As I recall, Firefox doesn’t check everything you download for being a rogue executable (and if it does, I doubt it’s in the Gecko level, but an extension of some kind). Who’s going to stop a user from downloading rogues with wget, curl, or any other command or library that happens to fetch information from a remote server?

    Apple runs WebKit with their own proprietary extensions (I’m not really sure how this works with KHTML being GPL…). It was originally KHTML for Konqueror. Qt now has QWebKit. Want the source? Go get it. It’s sad that Apple gets all the credit for what work the KDE team did provide by making KHTML.

    As for GNOME switching; they’re using Firefox (unless they made some other browser for it) and Mozilla has stated that they’re not switching any time soon.


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