Linux

How the Chromebook succeeds beyond all other Linux distributions

The Chromebook has taken off. It's a Linux-based device that has one key thing in its favor. Jack Wallen explains what he thinks it is.

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...

Market.

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.

About

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.

37 comments
emenau
emenau

This seems to tell more about the average American then about Linux. If they need marketing to think for them, and cannot think for themselves. Then yes... you need marketing. Canonical Suze and al the rest reach a market that doesn't only take take take, but one that gives back... Now Canonical is an odd duck who first took a lot from their users and now they more and more have a deaf ear to them. So people are shifting sidewards to other Debian OSes. And CromeOS... I don't know if I want that. I hope it takes a bigger bite out of the Windows and OSX market.

jqbecker
jqbecker

it is not that Chrome OS furthers linux, or this distro over that distro, or this person installed whatever on it or over it. the big point is that when used with GoogleApps for Education, ChromeBook gets you get an entire ENVIRONMENT: storage, email, apps, and yes, infrastructure. All you need in the school is a dumbed-down local wifi network and you are done. So long expensive Cisco routers, so long mega-storage server, so long big expensive VPN backhaul. This is outsourced infrastructure folks!

aroc
aroc

It seems all this exhorting of Canonical to get with a marketing program sort of skips over the "business model" of Linux: there is no business model. The only money being made with Linux is in selling support services as RedHat does very successfully, and I believe Canonical does, but both are targeting businesses, and large organizations, not storefront consumers. The only way ChromeOS makes money is with the hardware sales of the Chromebooks by the likes of Samsung and Acer (and, I guess Google is making money off the outrageous, but gorgeous Pixel). I don't think Google is getting much, if anything, along the lines of software licensing as MS does with Windows PC sales (I could be wrong). The closest example of this for Linux is Dell's Alienware laptop mentioned above, and their cool XPS 13 Developer's Edition, but it is up to Dell to push those, and make any money to be had, not whomever provides the original distro that Dell tweaks to work on their hardware - pretty much like the ChromeBooks it seems to me. Unfortunately, if the deal goes through with MS to help fund Michael's plan to take his company private, that will probably be the end of that. I know I was reluctant to consider a CB until BestBuy sent me a daily sale email listing "open box" Samsung Arm CB's for $216, so I decided that was low enough to give it a shot since I could return it, too (doubly opened box?). It has been fun, and useful for a quick-n-simple jump on the 'Net without a big setup effort. My wife found it useful, and I am making it available in the family room for anyone in the family to use that way with their Google account. No muss/no fuss type of appliance. I also tracked down a packaged ARM Ubuntu image for a flash drive, and found it works pretty decently for a more traditional Linux notebook experience with standalone apps (works better with something really fast like a SanDisk Extreme III SDHC card - a Lexar USB flash drive was noticeably slower). But I already have fully set-up Linux notebooks I use as my primary personal PC's (vs a work-provided Win7 clunker...). This is not a PC replacement for us, but more of a supplemental appliance for 'Net access.

aroc
aroc

@SerrJ215: If you are not up to diving in the deep end with the Chromium.org build-it-on-Linux approach from R.C.D, you can download a bootable image file from http://chromeos.hexxeh.net/ . It will require doing a byte-by-byte image copy to a flash drive. I do that with "dd" on Linux, but Hexxeh describes very clearly how to do that on Windows with a link to get "Windows Imager Writer" to do the copy. Hope that helps - have fun ;-} [Dunno why, but for a long time now I have not been able to click the "Reply" button on this site to reply to posts that way - it just starts up a little spinner that never stops.]

frylock
frylock

Gt together with the family for Mother's Day and found that my (non-tech) sister had bought my mom a Samsung ChromeBook to replace her dying MacBook. Like it or not, the ChromeBook has reach.

adornoe
adornoe

and the problem will never really exist, since, for what the Chromebooks will do, even the most simple of tablets will be sufficient. Chromebook: a web browser (which are all free, btw), being sold inside a $200-250 ultrabook-looking contraption. ;) Marketing can sell, but, after a while, people become convinced that, some things were bad ideas from the beginning, and didn't have to be as expensive as even $5, since all browsers are free, and can be loaded on just about any computer or mobile device people might already have.

Slayer_
Slayer_

If they are cheap, people will buy them. Then get them home, in their hill billy village, and find out the device is useless without internet. These people will then complain and return their device, tell their friends. It will spiral out of control, and the device will fail.

mhenriday
mhenriday

as an example, you people in the US are fortunate that it is available there. Try purchasing it from Dell here in Sweden - it isn't even listed among their products ! Anybody know in just which countries Dell offers this computer and OS combination to prospective users ?... Henri

chiefski76
chiefski76

But, beware if you really threaten the kingpins of the market - remember that upstart, Lindows?

SerrJ215
SerrJ215

This might be slightly off topic but does anyone know where to find the Chrome OS itself? Or is it married to the hardware. I would like to give it a try but I am not interested in getting new hardware if I find I am not a fan.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

For the folks who think marketing and advertising is garbage, then they must figure Microsoft Windows was the best operating system and that's why it won ;-) imo, Bill Gates was a master marketer and Steve Jobs made Apple the king of music by licensing music for his iPods. The technology itself is just hardware.

pwelte
pwelte

Marketing may be one aspect of the Chromebook's success. However, the ecosystem of Google Apps for Education and Google Apps for Business certainly has to be a huge benefit as well. Schools can purchase a hundred Chromebooks and place them in student's hands almost as soon as they are unboxed (just add a wifi code and enroll the device in the GAFE domain). Whether by accident or design, Google has created a system (from end-user device, to the applications, to the storage, and even to the overall management) that works for schools. Are the apps Mack trucks with 53 foot trailers? No. But they get you from point A to point B and can haul a few groceries. That's exactly what schools need and there's a huge market in education. Apple seems to have forgotten it's educational roots and constantly thumbs it's nose at its customer base. It's overpriced and over-complicated for enterprise. Sure the iPad is a great device for personal use but it's a nightmare to manage on a large scale.

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

I replaced my wifes high end Dell running Windows 7 Ultimate with a Chromebook Pixel. She likes it and my role as the IT support help desk at home has diminished. My teenagers also like it, it's quick to boot/login and it does everything they need. I did add an Epson 837 (for cloud print capability). I would have just used my old printer but for some reason, on my Ubuntu machine the cloud print authentication window was always blank and I could not add the printer.

Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com
Knighthawk5193@Yahoo.com

As far as I see it, (and this is my opinion...I don't have weblinks or the like to back up any of this!...LOL! For the "flamers" out there!) the Chromebook DID sell well due to advertising, and there are quite a few of them out there. A lot of people bought them to satisfy their need to have the "latest & greatest"....but speaking to the few people who I know have purchased one they say that while it's good for general usage, they're not giving up their Windows / Mac / Linux machines that have all their stuff (personal settings, favorite links, pictures, movies etc.) to place all of that on the web. A lot of people don't quite understand that the Chrombook is something that "attaches" you to the cloud, and that a lot of your data is "out there". I feel that the success of the Chromebook beside its "easy-ness" would be that it's affordable....more affordable then previous offerings that came before it.....its only recently that now the competition is lowering its prices to stay in the race. On the other side of that coin you have Linux, (which I have been using now upwards of about 4 years!...) they don't advertise, they don't "do" commercials...they don't have billboards or ads in magazines, as a matter of fact if you don't know about Linux...then you DON'T know about Linux! I happened to stumble upon it when....after almost 9 years with Windows I came home to find all of my data.....ALL OF IT. ...gone! And it was then...that I decided to leave the Windows camp for GOOD! At first I thought this impossible since I had never heard of Linux and the only alternative available was the extremely expensive Apple...and I almost went that route, it wasn't until I actually Google-ed "alternative operating systems" that I discovered Linux, I tread cautiously at first, unsure of how it worked, and I was even going to dismiss it...but I started visiting some of the homepages of these different distros, and I liked the "common thread" thay all had: not only was most or all of the software absolutely free of charge, but it was customzable and the Kernel was the same throughout all of them. I went with Ubuntu at first, but soon switched to Fedora and have never looked back...I try to promote Linux at every turn, so far my Mom, my brother, my sister, my cousin, and two of my nieces have been "converted" everyone has their favorites....Linux Mint......Ubuntu....PearOS....etc. I think there's a two-sided mindset when it comes to Linux in general, a lot of the newer Linux users would argue and agree that it needs to become more "main stream" and to attract more people to it, that would most definitely mean advertising...marketing, PR etc. but the OTHER side of that fence is looking at it from the point of view that Linux has NEVER advertised and never SHOULD! it's ALWAYS been "hidden in the shadows" and only those brave enough to venture out into the dark will discover it and use it....I had no one pointing me towards it, I was just so angry that once again a B.S.O.D. had taken away most of the data that I had worked so long and hard to attain..and this kind of "forced" me into the night.,...seeking I didn't know what. But most people are "content", meaning they are willing to let Microsoft dictate what their computing experience should be, while others are of the mind that they are in an "elite" group of people who own Macs...most of the Linux community doesn't CARE if they're mainstream or not, they only care that the Linux mindset doesn't become embroiled in the everyday "brand-wars" that exist everywhere..(Sears vs. JCPenny.....Microsoft vs Apple.....Applebee's vs Ruby Tuesday's...etc) and while there's nothing wrong with letting someone else "drive" when it comes to your computing needs, there are a select few who will not sit idly by and let someone overcharge them for something that is not all that great when it comes to security and operational ability...(sidenote* - A friend of mine was showing me his Windows 8 machine...and his I.E.10 got hung! He tried to restart it again but had to literally shut it down and restart it again....now I'm not a Tech Guru or anything...but this is the same behavior that Windows NT4.0 used to have! I thought the newest version of Windows was supposed to NOT do that?...LoL!) but the bottom line is....most of the Linux community feels as though they don't need to swim in the same direction as everyone else in order to thrive, while there are those who feel that it couldn't hurt, and that it might just be the thing to bring Linux to the masses.....I for one agree with the latter camp. I don't see a need to "dress up" and impress just to try and increase "sales" of something that's free to begin with, mind you I DO agree that in the case of Canonical and Ubuntu they need to "push" their face in front of the public some more....only because of their offereings,...and because it just might help to further the revelation of Linux to the people, but for EACH distro to have to come up with advertising dollars and marketing tactics? no...I don't think it would be beneficial....some of the maintainers of the various distros do so with a few PC's strung together and hosted on an FTP site, and that's it...they don't have a budget for marketing or advertising, and for them to take the risk of going through all that trouble and end up NOT having any kind of positive result would not be beneficial to either the induvidual or the Linux community as a whole.

Rauno
Rauno

It seems you think that marketing would be enough to sell a product. Chromebook succeeds because Google markets it AND distributors sell it. Linux products may succeeds (with the help of marketing) when products will actually be on the shelves. Spendings in marketing are useless until then. The article let me think about Nokia phones not selling despite of big advertisement campaign because distributors were reluctant to sell Windows phones (http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/window-on-windows/us-cellular-carriers-are-engaged-in-a-conspiracy-against-windows-phones/5398 - Windows Phone? You don’t really want that)

joseph.r.piazza
joseph.r.piazza

Jack has to explain further down why he thinks Linux can be a success. Dell- Alienware. a gaming machine. Are all games available in Linux? Otherwise why would Dell have Alienware market with Unbuntu. I need Dell to answer this question. Home Use Laptop or PC- I still am not sure if my printer has a driver for Linux, so Canonical or my printer manufacturer also has to advertise...YES..you can use your printer......we have it covered for Linux. Agree with commentor "Gisaburn"...Chromebook a success, I do not think so since the limitation of browser based, cloud computing. But I admit as a cheap laptop vs Tablet..it might be worth a consideration.

ridetransit
ridetransit

I like the chomebook because I can wipe the chorme os and install any distro I want, or run them off the sd or usb. That said, a $250 ultrabook running ubuntu out of the box would be a much sweeter deal for the consumer. And think of all those advertising dollars.

Joanne Lowery
Joanne Lowery

Sounds great! I'm looking forward to running Skype and my line of business apps on a decent piece of kit.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Being "easy to use" is not the only criteria. How about the issues that plague/hamper Chromebook's usefulness such as what to do when you don't have WiFi. Sure there are a few apps with the OS, but nothing of great use. Consider it as a big odd-sized brick. Of course there is no hard data that says that Chromebook has actually done well. Last I read [on TR and elsewhere] is that 500,000 units have been sold since the beginning. Not a great amount if you include the fact that Google's claim that over 2,000 schools have them [out of over 100,000 in the US]. So consider that it would average out to 250 per school if no consumer bought them. And somewhere down the line some nasty malware will hit Chromebook and owners will be running around like chickens with cut-off heads because no one will know how to clean the OS and the fact that the browser is attached to the OS. [i.e. how fast to get someone in 500,000 users to figure out a away to clean malware versus (I'm guessing) maybe 100 million Mac users and a billion Windows users].

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

Software or the lack thereof. From a support standpoint this is very attractive. The users ability to create their own problems is greatly reduced. All the software is cloud based so nothing really installs on the chromebook. If you have supported windows devices you will hopefully appreciate that. Having said that, they may work in an education setting but they are not ready for the business world I work in yet. As an example, even after adding the Citrix launcher from the ChromeWebStore, I cannot connect to my customers Citrix sites. That's a deal breaker for me.

Slayer_
Slayer_

So you need a pipe to run 10k or more laptops simultaneously. That's a pretty impressive pipe to have. Not sure if the cost of that would be less than the cost of the existing infrastructure.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

Which browser and version are you using? There have been a number of problems reported with Mozilla based (Gecko) browsers, especially Firefox versions 18 and later. I did stumble across a work-around that kind of works..."right click" on the Reply link and "open in new tab" then enter your reply.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

I read it was upwards of $1500 US! I'm sorry, but that's just way too much!

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

Well, I disagree slightly. If they are true hill billiy's they will not return them, but they will use them as cheap/portable heat sources in the winter.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

but when they try to load their old favorite Quicken, or TaxAct, or other some such that many people have used for years. The ChromeBook concept reminds me of that email contraption they dreamed up back in the mid 1990s, "no computer needed, just plug your phone line in and send/receive email", the name of which escapes me at the moment...yes it sortakindaalmost worked, until sending links and attachments became popular!

dbmarketing
dbmarketing

I've noticed a tendency among my more techy friends to not really care about what other people think about their projects. They have a single minded focus on making sure X is what they want X to be - which is awesome and a vital skill in programming, engineering, heck, even art. I fully support them. However, every single time the U.S. Congress or Canadian Parliament does something stupid related to technology, such as proposing certain legislation, they go into fits because they don't understand why it happened. "Don't they understand?!" Well, no. They don't. Like the vast majority of people, our Congresscritters are specialists. They are not, typically, specialists in hardware and software and do not care about the issues surrounding it. Further, companies like Microsoft and IBM understand this, so they are able to send people able to communicate with Congresscritters and get things passed. So to can other organizations. This results in things like CERN getting all the coolest science discoveries because the United States cuts back on research funding. However, instead of saying: "We have a problem, what steps do we need to take to fix it?" And then hiring marketers, PR people, lobbyists and political scientists... most complain loudly on online forum boards. And then wonder why it happens again. I've also noticed a tendency for people in the STEM fields to also look down on others who are not in the STEM fields. This attitude shows as well, and further alienates decision makers (who tend not to be from the STEM fields). It is kind of a reinforcing cycle.

noibs-0cf43
noibs-0cf43

Completely agree. When my wife retires (coming soon), 90%+ of what she does on a PC can be done on a Chromebook...and my life as her IT person will get a lot easier. The real reason (not the reason given in this article) that Linux has not succeeded (apart from Chrome) is because it's NOT easy for most people to install and use. It just isn't. Again, I'll use my wife as an example. She is a CPA, with both a masters degree and a doctorate. She is really, really bright. But there is no way that she could, or would want to, tinker with a traditional Linux install on a laptop. The command line? Forget it. She thinks of computers as smart toasters and that's how she wants to interact with them. A Chromebook? Yes. Ubuntu. No. I've been running various Linux versions in virtual machines for quite some time--just to see where things are. However, I'm a lot more likely to buy a Chromebook as a second or third computer rather than run Ubuntu as a primary operating system. It's not worth the hassle.

SKDTech
SKDTech

But outside of the Source games Valve has ported the pickings are still pretty slim as far as the AAA games that would be platform movers.

radleym
radleym

You can install (at least) Ubuntu alongside Chrome, sharing the dame kernel. Pretty cool.

aroc
aroc

Looks like it is! Woot! You da wizard all right! Thanks! BTW, this is SeaMonkey, but it uses much the same Gecko engine. Got any tips on why only the Windows version of the SM email client can delete email from the POP servers but not the Linux version (with same setting to delete only when I mark it do delete)? Been that way for years now, back even to when it was all just "Mozilla" as the inheritor of Netscape browser/email all-in-one. TIA

adornoe
adornoe

and anyone that gets one should have his/her head examined.

Greg Shultz
Greg Shultz

...is the top of the line. You put a 32GB Solid State Drive in any system and the price is going to be high,

ridetransit
ridetransit

but found I never used chromeos, so wiped that partition.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

in Linux I primarily use either KMail or Claws Mail. I know a couple of buds at another site that use SM with Linux, I might ask if they notice this.

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

They examined my head but they didn't find anything.

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