When will Google buy VMWare?

Google’s Chromebooks are starting to go mass-market. For those that don’t know, these are essentially laptops that only have a web browser on them. No Windows, no OS X or Linux. To many people, this seems ludicrous. You need apps, right? You need data?

The truth is, the majority of people already only use browser “apps”, which we used to call “websites”. Google has been leading the charge on this, by pushing the envelope on in-browser apps with Google Docs and the Chrome App Store. There are other players too, Apple is training people to buy apps, and not worry about having to reinstall them when your hardware fails. DropBox is training people to sync everything. Amazon is training people to have virtual CD shelves. Steam is training people to have virtual game libraries. Citrix and LogMeIn are training people to work on remote desktops, and so on.

These are all coming together to get people to the point where we basically go back to dumb terminals. Your computer is nothing more than a local node on the network. That, however, is not the interesting part, people have been saying that for years.

The interesting part, to me, is that it’s not actually going to be the typical early adopters going there first. My girlfriend’s computer literally has nothing on it. She only uses browser apps and iTunes, which is connected to our NAS where her photos are also stored. She uses GMail, Facebook, Google Docs, etc. With the exception of syncing her iPod, which I have to assume someone will figure out how to do in the ChromeOS ecosystem, I’m not sure she would really notice any difference.

Now my computer(s) are a long ways from there. I’ve got development environments, SQL servers, mail servers, all sorts of infrastructure set up. I could certainly move to a remote desktop or a remote terminal on a server, but the change would be much more disruptive and not without some costs.

Along a different path, we’ve seen a long progression of advances in virtualization. I actually do most of my work in VMs now, for a number of reasons, but one of which is that I’m not dependent on a particular piece of hardware. If my laptop is destroyed or stolen, I’m back up to speed very quickly. The only thing I’d need to do is install VMWare, plug in my drive, and I’m good to go.

I think these two paths are going to meet up soon. I think ChromeOS is a way to get the low-demand computer users on board. If Google buys VMWare, they can come at it from the other end as well. I think VMs will get leaner while browsers get more robust, and we’ll end up with a hybrid of the two. A lightweight OS that is heavily network/app/web based? I wonder where Google would get one of those? Oh, right, they already did.

Ubuntu: See you in 2012

As a follow-up to my previous post, I’ve just finished moving off my Ubuntu VMs. I don’t necessarily blame Ubuntu for this, but it’s just a little too laggy in a VM. I bet it’s only a few ms most of the time, but it’s noticeable and it’s frustrating when you’re in a good flow. Perhaps next year, if there have been improvements on both the Linux and VMWare side.

I did try VirtualBox, which seemed slightly more responsive but was very flaky, it would randomly lock up in strange ways. I also tried Virtual PC, which isn’t really an option since it lacks real multi-monitor support, but didn’t offer any improvements anyways.

Another issue which may seem minor but any programmer will tell is definitely not is that my code font, Lucida Console, doesn’t work the same on Linux. I’m not familiar enough with font mechanics to say how, but I tried everything including fractional font sizes to going through probably 50 other fonts, and it just doesn’t have the right density. Fonts on Linux are getting better though, I did enjoy the Ubuntu font in the OS UI.

Alternatively running Windows 7 in VMWare so far has been almost completely transparent. I haven’t done it enough to say it’s a total success but I’ve already gotten confused when I’m in full-screen, which is a good sign. Of course the downside is that licensing issues are tricky and expensive, but since these are for paying projects, I can recoup the $200 fee. I may try an OEM license for the next one, it appears to be legal and about half the cost.

Linux for Desktop, finally?

I love linux for servers, and I like the idea of using an open source desktop, but it’s never worked out between us. Once a year or so, I go grab the friendliest desktop distro and play with it until it breaks or I find out that some key piece of software is missing or too many versions behind.

I have an aggressive, but reasonable time limit for tinkering before I have to give up. If I cannot get up and running in 4 hours or so, it’s back to Windows. I just don’t have the patience for this type of work to be hacking undocumented config files to do stuff that “just works” in a commercial OS.

I’ve tried various combinations of red hat, suse, debian with gnome, kde, even regular X back in the day. They all failed, usually miserably, often long before the 4 hour time limit.

I should state that this is not because it is bad software, the people writing are doing good work. It’s just been a little too hot rod/DIY for my taste.

This year, the attempt had a bit of a wrinkle, in favor of the candidate. As I’ve recently gone freelance, I’m trying to use a virtual machine per client. This has a number of benefits that I will get into in a future blog post when I’ve had more time to use it. This means that I’m not looking at a linux desktop as a full-on OS replacement, but as a guest OS for my development work.

So I don’t have to complain about how bad Gimp is, or even bother setting up IM or email clients or play music or connect my phone. I will run all of those in the host OS, which in this case is Win 7 Pro.

So last night, I set up Ubuntu 10.10 in VMWare player. The “easy install” was, in fact, easy. It just booted up, at the right resolution, without any warnings. JDK 6 was already installed. I found eclipse (3.5, not 3.6, but doable) through the “Ubuntu Software Center”, as well as MyQL Query Browser and Chromium. apt-get mysql-server and … everything still works. Install subclipse and m2eclipse and we’re basically done.

So I’ve got a complete dev environment up and running and I haven’t had to edit a single config file*, or even reboot the VM. So kudos to the Ubuntu team!

Of course, in true open source fashion, now that all the major bugs have apparently been ironed out they’re dropping Gnome as the default window manager in favor of shiny new Unity, so who knows what the future holds…

*I did have to edit a VMWare config file to enable the back/forward button on my mouse, but I don’t think this has anything to do with Ubuntu. Seriously, it’s 2011 and this isn’t the default or even a checkbox in the settings screen? For those who need it, put:

mouse.vusb.enable = “TRUE”

into your .vmx file and bounce the VM.