Ubuntu, Google, and the Future of Linux. And rsync too.

There's a provocatively titled article by Robert Strohmeyer over at PC World that professes "The Future of Linux is Google". It waxes prophetically about how Google will eventually dominate all that is Linux and Open Source, and that "it's time for the Linux world to rally ". It starts off with a nod to Ubuntu, with the author telling us he used to believe Ubuntu (and Canonical) was destined to lead Linux into the mainstream. The reason I can't seem to get this one out of my mind is because of the whole rallying thing; the idea that Google is now Linux's great hope and that we should all rally behind Google. Forget about Ubuntu and the others. Google is where it's at, even if Chrome doesn't officially exist yet. Seemingly seconds after the article's publication, Chrome OS because available for download, as if fate were doffing its cap to Google's power. It's interesting reading and I do recommend that you check it out.

But let's be honest though. Without Linux, Google might not have grown into the powerhouse you see today. I'm not saying it wouldn't have been a successful company, just not as successful. It sure as hell wouldn't be as profitable as it is if its option was to hand out individual license payments to Microsoft for each and every server it deployed. For the sake of brevity, I won't even start on Linux's obvious superiority as a server OS when compared to Windows.

Conservative estimates from Wikipedia suggest that Google has more than 450.000 servers in its global supermegagigantic cluster. Meanwhile, an article over at Pandia quotes a Gartner Invest estimate of 1 million servers; with multicore instances and virtual machines taken into account, that number is apparently closer to 3 million. With Google deploying an additional 100,000 servers per quarter, and given that this last article is from July 2007, I can extrapolate and say that Google now has some 2 million servers, not counting all those cores and virtual machines.

Running Linux.

Whatever the real number is (Google's not saying), one fact is indisputable. Running Linux and open source has saved Google an enormous amount of cash. Running Linux has allowed Google the means to create custom, finely tuned systems, optimized for its business and technological needs. It has also given Google the power to develop, and play with, many different applications from which to increase its already considerable *ahem* monetary assets. Building your business around Linux and Open Source software isn't just about saving on license costs either. In doing so, Google can take advantage of a formidable army of enormously talented and dedicated developers in the FOSS community at large (a pause while I acknowledge that the FOSS community also benefits from Google's largesse, so there is most definitely give and take.)

Those applications, by the way, just keep coming. Gmail. Google Maps. Google Calendar. Google Earth. Android on cell phones and other mobile devices. The nascent Chrome OS is yet another example of Google using Linux to provide the next generation of cloud-based applications and power future netbooks.

The real truth here is that Linux is the future of Google, along with its present, and its past. Linux has helped Google, in part at least, to become the powerhouse we both love and fear.

So where does that leave Ubuntu? Right where it is with all the potential is already has. Same for the other Linux vendors.

Chrome OS is a cloud-based application delivery platform, built for a very specific purpose, namely those little netbooks. Your data and the heart of the applications in Chrome OS live in Google's cloud. A lot of people will be very happy with that. There are, however, countless other applications that aren't suited to the cloud-based model. Applications that can only realistically live on the desktop (at least for the foreseeable future). Desktop Linux, and Ubuntu by extension, will continue to thrive there and to evolve into something even greater than what it is today. Chrome competes with Microsoft where Microsoft is, er, softest. The cloud.

On the desktop, Ubuntu (along with other Linux distributions), is still the best alternative to the expensive, proprietary, virus-infested, patent-laden, troublesome operating system that currently controls the vast majority of desktops. Oops, that last part was supposed to be my inside voice.

Okay, enough Google. Backups.

Last week, I told you about my NAS purchase, and my desire to explore desktop applications for backing up your Ubuntu computer. From the administrative interface of my Buffalo NAS, I created a network share that I could access with the different systems in my office. It's an SMB share so that it can also be accessed from Windows if needs arise. I then permanently mount those shares as network file systems (though not NFS) on my Kubuntu Karmic system. This I do from the command line; actually, it runs from my rc.local boot script.

/bin/mount -t cifs -o uid=marcel,gid=marcel -o username=marcel,password=secretpassword //bvault/marcel /mnt/vault

Because I am mounting a cifs type filesystem, I previously had to install the smbfs package (sudo apt-get install smbfs). The uid and gid flags give the mounted file systems permissions that allow me to store creation and modification time information, useful for a backup. I can have, and in fact do have, several mounted shares depending on whether this is for backups, or for storing music or videos. In this case, vault just happens to be the name I give to the folder where I store my backups.

The first application I want to share with you is actually a command line application, though what I actually want to do is show off some of the friendlier graphical applications (and I will do that starting next week). Since most of them will use rsync, I'll spend this week giving you a quick overview of how rsync works.

rsync -av local_folder remote_folder

Using my own data vault to back up my Ubuntu User folder, I might see something like this.

$rsync -av Issue3 /mnt/vault/ubuntu_user

sending incremental file list
Issue3/Issue 3 Remote Control.odt
Issue3/Issue 3 Remote Control.txt

sent 5232421 bytes  received 434 bytes  1162856.67 bytes/sec
total size is 5230173  speedup is 1.00

Easy. For rsync to be a really useful engine though, it should be able to delete files. After all, if you are mirroring a folder (or folders), it stands to reason that you want the mirror to represent exactly what is on the original. If files have been deleted, you want them deleted on the backup as well. We make this magic happen with the --delete flag. I'll start by deleting the image for vinaigre_start.png from the local folder.

$rsync -av --delete Issue3 /mnt/vault/ubuntu_user

sending incremental file list
deleting Issue3/vinaigre_start.png

sent 699 bytes  received 16 bytes  1430.00 bytes/sec

That's it. Both folders, including my local folder and the remotely mounted folder, are in sync.

Next week, I'll get graphical on you. Promise.

Feel free to try this at home.

Until next time . . .


The Future of Linux is Google ?

Google's future may well be fuchsia.dev
which is certainly not Linux !

My own backup solution

I use Unison instead of rsync for my backups and mirroring, it's based on rsync but with enhanced features. Unison has both gui and command line interfaces and, can operate on locally, on a lan or, even across the internet. The command line interface has options that make it suitable for automated backups.

The way I've got it set up, Unison mirrors many of the folders on my laptop and desktop within my home folder using ssh, or my personal vpn. I run it this way about two to four times a week. Then about once a month I run it to backup my whole home folder on my desktop to a usb drive which I then unplug and put back in it's box to guard against a failure of my ups, earthquake, & ect. Talk about surviving hardware failure, if one computer ever goes down, I can use the other till it's fixed:)

ChromeOS, google docs and censorship

Today I came across the following conversation online:


Now what I find disturbing is the notion that there are any filters in the first place.

What is the purpose of this censorship in the first place? People sharing documents that someone else doesn't think is appropriate? I can't quite get my head around that. Blogger, for instance. Does that have a filter that prevents people sharing offensive things? What about Youtube? No. What about images found during a google search? Not from what was said about the images that were intended to insult the USA president's wife. Google indicated that it didn't intend to censor such things.

Though the image has apparently since been removed:


the issue remains as it was the image poster, not google, who removed the image. Google merely apologised.

So I repeat my question: What is the purpose of this filter when Google provide other services to which the broader community has great access?

If this is something Google believes is reasonable and it would appear it does, then this would surely be something that the adopters of Google's ChromeOS should become more aware of and maybe they should take greater notice of RMS (Richard Matthew Stallman) who is seriously concerned about keeping your documents etc in the 'cloud'.


This is more grist to the mill and raises questions for me about the use of google docs.

Chrome is the new Ubuntu

I'ts open!!
Shuttleworth people are doing most of the development and he would NOT help if the thing was not going to stay open and free.

Just because the netbook version supplied by the hardware vendors is limited, dose not mean others will not take it to new heights. The limitation of the boxs will be put in to keep the every day user from mucking up his own platform and relieve them from the task of admmining their computers. I's not that it better but it is the fact it will just keep working flawlessly for them. Also don't forget local clouds @ work were the IS department can keep tabs on what you do with your computer--this actually why cloud computing revolution is a given.

Google and the Community

Hello Fredrik,

I appreciate your comment, but you aren't being fair to Google. Whatever you may think of the whole "who will win the Linux war" silliness, Google is a very good FOSS community citizen. Not perfect, but who is? They use and develop with Linux and open source software extensively, share development with the community, and pay full time staff to work on open source projects like the Linux kernel itself. While they may not share everything -- Google is a business, remember, whose responsibility to employees, shareholders, etc, is to make money -- they nevertheless share a great deal. Look at the Google code site, Google's Summer of Code program, and those paid programmers working on FOSS code.

As to 'owning your data', nothing stops you from taking your email archive and walking away with it. Just mount your folders via IMAP and retrieve them.

-- Marcel

Obviously written by a Linux fanboy

You claim that without Linux, Google would have to make license payments to Microsoft. Do you even know that BSD operating systems exist, or that big players (like Yahoo) use them?

What problem?

What problem does Chrome address, exactly?
I keep hearing about cloud stuff and about the browser acting like applications so I don't have to run separate applications. What problem does any of this solve? The problem that I own my own data? The problem of using mature applications designed from the ground up for their purpose? For a real application, its user interface is completely dedicated to its particular job. Why would I want to instead use a web app, where I'm going to have screen real estate and functionality devoted to web browsing interfering with my attempts to word process or spreadsheet or whatever? Maybe it's more convenient? But I launch normal apps with a single click, either on a taskbar icon or a file. Short of telepathy, how much more convenient could a web app be?

Chrome solves a problem I don't have--even on a netbook.

@Fredrik: Actually, Google is all about users owning their data

As far as Google's proprietary services (like Gmail, Calendar, etc.), they make a real effort for users to be able to move, retain, and control their data. (see: http://www.dataliberation.org/)

But more importantly, Google has contributed a lot towards many open-source projects. Google's Summer of Code has expanded everything from the Haskell programming language to tons of Python modules. Google has also contributed a number of features and patches to the Linux kernel, not to mention tons of open source API's to their services and tools to interactive with their services. Do your research before making general statements like that.



Not a god idea to automatically delete files from your backups, at least not if it is your only backup. If you accidentally delete a file from your server and then the backup runs before you realise (as is often the case) you will not have a backup to go back to.

Usually backups done is more then one level. For instance a weekly backup that is complete snapshot at the time it was taken and daily backups that only store changes since the weekly.

Google will shut down Ubuntu

Dear Writer,

I understand you enthusiasm towards Linux, specially Ubuntu; and for the record, im an ubuntu user as well.

I also agree with you that Google has based its incredible growth on Linux and general OSS.

But, the real thing here is that Google has found an innovative way to really use OSS to produce solucions that are really addressing the problem in the end user corner; something that Linux has (still) failed to do.

Ubuntu has advanced a lot, but still lacks of many things; specially for the enterprisee.

So, yes, Google es growing and will continue.


Google is not dependent on Linux. There are equally suitable free BSD variants. If Linux had gotten totally marginalized and BSD would rule supreme in the open source operating system field, it wouldn't have any direct impact on Google.

Note: I'm not saying anything about which are better, *BSD or Linux OSes.

Free as in Freedom and Beer

I do disagree that with you that it is correct as citing "Gmail. Google Maps. Google Calendar. Google Earth." as stuff that Google has "given back" to the community for a number of reasons. First, as long as you use Gmail or Google Calendar you just don't own your information. You are not free from anyone using it (by automated or manually). This goes towards the Freedom concept of FOSS in my mind. Second is the sourcecode for Gmail and all the other things you mention available for free usage? I would like to setup my own Gmail server so I can avoid my first point above. Not possible? How do you reach the conclusion that Google has given back??? Same with ChromeOS; if it is all backed up for you automagically, guess how owns your data??? Freedom? Beer? Don't think so.

The expanse of space surrounding Planet *buntu is getting busier and busier. As a result, achieving a stable orbit is particularly difficult when you're easily distracted. Consequently, Marcel Gagné's blog looks at pretty much anything and everything that orbits Planet *buntu. News, howtos, rumors, opinions, controversy, tech tips, helpful hints . . . you'll find it all here. Oh look! A shiny object!

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