This week, Google acquired OS vendor Neverware, makers of the CloudReady distribution of ChromiumOS. ChromiumOS is the fully open source, upstream version of ChromeOS, the highly restricted, cloud-centric operating system that runs Chromebooks and Chromeboxes.
The acquisition sounds great on paper – Google certainly has more resources than Neverware, including but not limited to the developer base for ChromeOS itself. According to Neverware’s FAQ about the transition, Big G will honor all existing licensing agreements and currently has no plans to limit the availability of CloudReady’s free Home edition.
All this good news, unfortunately, comes with “right now” caveats to every bullet point – which seems a little unnerving to us, since it comes immediately after Red Hat announced it would kill off CentOS Linux and replace it with CentOS Stream.
While there’s no real connection between Google and Red Hat, the relationship between CloudReady and Google’s own ChromeOS was more or less an exact replica of that between RHEL and CentOS. The flagship distribution in both cases is open source and the source code is available, but compiling it into a working product is a significant undertaking, and that final, working product is not freely available from the vendor.
CloudReady, like CentOS before it, takes the freely available source of its parent distribution and turns it into a freely available and immediately functional clone.
A Chromebook by any other name
The analogy between CentOS and CloudReady breaks down a bit when the issue of hardware comes into play. RHEL and CentOS are both installed on the same generic x86 hardware, but Google ChromeOS is only distributed on Google-approved Chromebooks and Chromeboxes, with heavily limited lifecycles and support windows.
CloudReady aims to extend the ChromeOS experience beyond those hardware boundaries and short lifecycles. It can be installed on any PC hardware and it does not “expire” automatically when that hardware reaches a certain age. For schools with aging fleets of Windows 7-based PCs that wouldn’t work well with Windows 10, CloudReady offers a way to modernize the operating system without having to refresh the hardware itself.
While the primary revenue stream for Neverware comes from educational and business customers who pay per-device licensing fees, the company also offers a Home version available for free. With CloudReady’s Home edition, anyone can turn an old PC (or a new, very cheap PC) into a Chromebook-like system.
The free Home version can’t be managed with the Google Admin console, as Chromebooks would be in education or business environments, but is otherwise a functional replacement for ChromeOS, including regular, automatic security upgrades. Education and Enterprise CloudReady variants go one step further and are fully manageable with Chrome Management and Google Admin Console.
List image by edward stojakovic / Flickr