Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Google's Chromium OS and how open source software can be a huge waste of time.

Google builds the Chrome OS (operating system) and makes it available on Chromebooks. Now there's a lot of older computers that could easily run this operating system and Google runs the open source Chromium project where you can find the code. You would it would be an easy matter of downloading Chromium OS and using it to run a PC.

I decided to investigate this option. The first thing you find out is the project doesn't have any compiled version for people to simply install as their operating system on their older PC. Next you go hunting and you find the recommended compilations.

The first highly recommend version I found had a good site but on closer inspection the software hadn't been updated since the start of 2013. Looks like another dead project with no future. The open source ecosystem is littered with dead projects. People start them, make no money so just abandon them. Someone else may then take up the project and in time often the same thing happens again. There's little money to be made so little incentive to continue to maintain. Google's Chrome browser for example still uses the version I created which was somewhere around 2007 before I ditched the open source project for the same reason and decided to start again on a commercial basis.

OK. Try another site. I found one and started the process. First you need to download the file. Then you need to download and install a program to decompress the file because, well, open source projects don't tend to use the common zip format which would make life easier. Then you decompress the file. But now you need to download and install yet another program to create a bootable USB drive so you can run the operating system from a USB drive.

Finally ready to go. Set the computer to boot up from the USB drive and let's go for it. It starts booting up and things look good. Then an error message appears and nothing. The computers locked up. Zero result and the site states they won't look into it not working on your machine.

With open source there's a lot of wasted time hunting through the good from the bad. Project won't admit when they're dead. People take code from all over the place calling it their own. In the end you waste a great deal of time.

If you're consider using open source software stick with the major projects that have been around for some time. These project often use open source project to support their work and it isn't their source of revenue so the project will often continue as long as the business continues. There are a number of open source projects that have been around for a long time and the software can be quite good such as Gimp on Windows. Steer clear of the Mac version which is a waste of time.

Overall I find commercial software does most of what I want and I'm happy to pay for the software. The hours you can waste on open source software can be huge so do take care if you go down that path.

As for Chromium OS on an old PC. I think I'll just skip that option for the time being. However for my clients I'll continue to investigate as many options as I can in case they provide better value or can end up saving some clients money. It really is about working out what works and what doesn't work and providing a cost effective professional solution. Most of the time this is commercial software, but on the odd occasion an open source project can provide a solution that meets a client's need.

Kelvin Eldridge
Call 0415 910 703 for IT support.

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