Unlike my usual fare, I'm going to cut to the chase and answer this question up front. The Chromebook (and it's Linux-based Chromium OS) succeeds because it's easy to use and it works. Simple. End of story.
Oh, but wait -- it's not really all that simple. There's one additional point of interest, one that I've been harping on Linux distributions about for years. The Chromebook does one thing all other distributions do not...
Yes, I'm talking to you Canonical and SUSE (and any other solid desktop distributions that cares to listen). You will never get anywhere (at least in the United States) until you market. Why? There's a reason companies dump millions upon millions (or billions upon billions) of dollars into marketing campaigns. Consumers are image-driven and those images are best driven by network television.
That's right. Commercials.Yes, the Chromium OS is being distributed by OEMs now via the Chromebook. You can hop in your car, head to big box stores like Best Buy, and purchase a Chromebook. But even if those Chromebooks sat on the shelves, waiting for consumers to plop down their hard-earned cash, had they not been exposed to them in the first place -- there would be no demand.
Demand... driven by consumerism, powered by the great god Advertisement.
Yes, it helps that the Chromium OS is incredibly simplistic and anyone can immediately sit down and start using one. Thanks to the web-based world we now live in, it has everything all tidily wrapped up in a browser. Yet a straight-up Linux environment offers more -- with the same reliability.
Where's the disconnect? Marketing.
Yes, Canonical is about to unleash the Ubuntu Phone on the world. But unless they advertise (to the masses -- not those already in the know), it will fail. Ubuntu 13.04 is an amazing operating system. It's powerful, elegant, reliable... it has everything the consumer needs (especially now with Steam behind it). But unless Canonical digs deep into its pockets and fronts the funds for a television advertising campaign, it will go no further than it already has.
Take this example. Alienware now offers the X51 -- one of it's most powerful gaming platforms -- with Ubuntu. On the Dell website, they answer the question, "Why choose Ubuntu?" like so:
Ubuntu’s stylish, intuitive interface provides a clean and streamlined experience that is easy to use. Ubuntu works with music, videos, photos and files that you use on your current PC. Its open-source operating system allows users to experience Ubuntu in a flexible manner that is unique to their preferences and its flexible interface can be customized to suit the user’s needs.
All true. All right on the nose. However, unless Dell pumps a little advertising money into that campaign, it won't sell... at least outside of the standard-issue Linux crowd. And that is sad. It's a powerhouse of a machine and Linux brings it a power that Windows 8 can't touch.
But we're not talking Google -- you know, the developers of the Chromium OS -- who get marketing. Google understands the only way to get a product into the hands of consumers is to let them know it exists and let them know why their product is better than all the others. That is what Canonical needs to understand and embrace.
Why do I keep bringing up Canonical and not every other Linux desktop distribution out there? It's not because Ubuntu is my Linux of choice, it's because Ubuntu is backed by the only company that is even close to getting the idea that marketing is the Achilles of Linux. Ubuntu is also the only distribution backed by a company that might have funds enough to actually pull off a marketing campaign powerful enough to get consumers interested.
I say 'bravo' to the Chromebook. No matter how you slice it, that device is getting Linux into the hands of consumers -- whether they know it or not. But until other Linux distributions open their eyes and realize that consumerism is fueled by style, by appearance, by 'hip factor', by visuals, and by advertisements, minus Chromebook and Android, the whole of Linux will continue to remain a niche and never gain any foot hold on the one target they should have their sights on -- the average consumer.
Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.