Google considered a move to OpenSolaris? All that glitters is not Chrome

Search giant may be willing to make a bet on Sun's Unix distribution, but any move away from Linux remains highly unlikely. And that goes for Firefox too.

Tech Culture

CORRECTION at 6:30 a.m. PDT September 2: This blog inadvertently had linked to old information about Google's work with OpenSolaris. However, having discovered the mistake, the author realizes how salient the content is to Google's announcement Monday of its new browser.

Two years ago, Computerworld reported that Google was actively testing Sun Microsystems' OpenSolaris Unix distribution as a possible adjunct operating system to be used internally with its existing modified Linux distribution. While I'm sure there continues to be active experimentation at Google around OpenSolaris, I suspect any move away from Linux remains highly unlikely, at least in the short term.

In a similar vein, Monday's news of Google's creation of a new Web browser--Chrome--may not spell the end of Google's cozy relationship with the Firefox browser either.

According to the 2006 Computerworld article:

Sources outside Google of said that its servers currently run a stripped-down version of Red Hat Linux that has been modified by the company's engineers. A Solaris systems administrator who recently interviewed for a job at Google said that he was told by employees there that the search engine vendor plans to create and test its own modified version of OpenSolaris....

Switching to OpenSolaris would be a natural move for Google, which has a large number of former Sun employees and is striving to push the performance of its data centers, (technology consultant Stephen) Arnold said. But he added that he doubts Google is widely deploying OpenSolaris yet. "Will it quickly replace Linux anytime soon? No," he said.

Exactly. Google is the performance king, and so it might have been willing to make a bet on OpenSolaris that others (like eBay and Yahoo) also made. Solaris has long been considered the gold standard for performance.

But two years later, Google has yet to broadly embrace OpenSolaris. Google isn't one to take the short-term view on performance. Linux has a strong, vibrant community dedicated to improving its performance and extending its reach. OpenSolaris, while a great project, still lacks this widespread community involvement. In Linux, Google benefits from the contributions of Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Red Hat, and others. With OpenSolaris? It would be more of a solo act.

This is just one reason I think that Chrome is unlikely to displace Firefox in Google's affections, at least anytime soon. OpenSolaris (and Chrome) may have technical superiority to offer them, but they have nothing to offer in terms of market momentum. And Google knows how to read the momentum tea leaves.

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