While it's obvious that being a kernel developer is absolutely the best thing anyone in life could ever aspire to, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to justify not having just given up and gone off to be an analyst instead. Two stories stuck with me this week. The first claims that we can expect Android netbooks to be on sale within a year or so. The reasoning behind this? Android runs on x86 and has a MID profile. Oh, yeah, and it sounds like a cool idea. Sure, we need to ignore straightforward facts like, oh, I don't know, it being UNSPEAKABLY PAINFUL TO DO OS DEVELOPMENT ON ARM, and hence it being NO SURPRISE WHATSOEVER TO FIND THAT BUILDS AND RUNS ON COMPUTERS THAT ACTUALLY GO FAST AND SIT ON PEOPLE'S DESKS. Or that MID refers to the class of devices like Nokia's internet tablets or, well, any of these and not a netbook. And, leaving those, the evidence we have for this is that "It sounds like a cool idea".
It's easy to write an article on why something sounds like a good idea, and even easier to make it sound like a good business plan if you're not the one who's going to lose money on it. But yeah, maybe Google's going to push for Android on netbooks. It's going to be a kind of crowded place to be, what with Microsoft and Intel and Canonical and Xandros and half a dozen Chinese Linux distributions that you've never heard of and really hope never to again once you've seen their distributions, but it's possible. And so these guys might even be right. But the sum total of their insight here is that (a) Google have a product, and (b) Google might want to enlarge the market for that product. The rest is a collection of extraneous facts designed to make you think that they've actually done something more impressive than typing make, and frankly if that's enough to get you noticed then gentoo users the world over are missing out badly.
It's ok, though. There's worse. Google are making a secret OS, which by my count means that there's been eleventy billion people inside Google working on a fucking OS for the past TWENTY YEARS and this time we can tell not because people have, y'know, gone to Google and seen it, but because they're busy leaking information about their secret OS by removing the user agent string from a bunch of their web traffic.
Of course, as Clint points out in his article, Google's a web company and so would want to produce a web OS. The obvious way to develop this web OS would be to, uh, run it on top of Android, an OS currently entirely unsuited to desktop use due to little things like the lack of decently accelerated framebuffer drivers on any hardware you can currently obtain (rather than, say, any of the operating systems already deployed in Google, all of which share one striking feature - the ability to RUN A WEB BROWSER AT A DECENT SPEED). And even though basically everyone in Google seems to have an Android device, it'd be vital to prevent anyone from knowing that they used Android to browse the web, so scratch the user agent.
But that makes no sense. So what Clint's clearly getting at is that people using the Google web OS are browsing the web using the Google web OS, and so remove the user agent string to avoid leaking that information. That makes sense, up until you actually think about it. A web OS would run in a web browser. Why would you run a web browser in a web browser?
Google's not an OS company. They don't employ enough people to develop a full OS and releasing a Linux derivative themselves would just be a way of tarnishing their brand in a hideous manner. Any move into the home would have to be in the form of appliances with known hardware configurations, and seriously, what's the point? It's not a big enough market. If Google's going to push applications, it's going to do it through the browser. And if it's doing it through the browser, then right now it doesn't matter what the underlying OS is. There could be any number of reasons for the mystery of the missing user agent strings, but if it's because Google are trying to prevent people from working out that they're developing an entire software stack that they're going to push out onto arbitrary hardware then I have an Android netbook to sell you.
That'll be $50,000, please.