@Sehnsucht, thanks for the link. I wasn't aware that the Chromixium project had undergone some changes. It's another interesting take. I'll fool around with it.
@cam.bankord, I think that we're pretty much in agreement. FOSS is the way to go, and as a user, I'm fine with dealing with the quirks and effort that go with taking that route. And of course, yes, I appreciate being able to do all of the wonderful things that a full, non-cloud-based OS like Linux allow us to do.
What I think the Neverware OS illustrates is that FOSS has not yet come up with a great solution for some of the people who need it the most, e.g. financially strapped public schools. If you have some smart people doing your IT, schools can go with something like Edubuntu, but it's still orders of magnitude more difficult to set up and maintain than Chrome OS. US school districts are buying Chromebooks by the millions, and I see it exploding in other markets soon as well, whereas desktop Linux has never had much success in K-12 education.
I think that this could be a great opportunity to rethink the way that distros are developed, because Google really is making massive inroads here, upon which this Neverware OS business is just a footnote. Many of the hackers and tech CEOs of tomorrow will have grown up using Chromebooks, not Windows machines. As the article hints at a bit, Microsoft, Apple, and Intel all perceive Chrome OS as a massive threat. There is something poetic about these young kids learning on Windows computers that have literally been left for dead, brought back to life Lazarus-like by Linux.
I take it not as a failure on the part of the FOSS community or a dereliction of duty that these people are being better served by a private company, but as a challenge for us to do better. Yes, we should be able to create something even better without needing to make it proprietary.
In the immediate present, a cloud-based OS would seem to be underpowered and detrimental to freedom, but if you look a bit farther into the future, I don't think that it has to be so. Projects like Wikipedia, GitHub, Protonmail, and DuckDuck Go show that you can have robust web offerings outside of massive corporations that can respect your freedom and be decentralized. Heck, the development of Linux itself is essentially a massive cloud project. A Chromium-OS-like OS may not in fact be the future, but I could certainly see it going that way.