Feeds

Google Oompa Loompas cloaking user agents?

Goobuntu rumor resurfaces

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Over 10 per cent of Google's internal machines are hiding their software makeup from the outside world, according to data collected by Net Applications, a web analytics outfit that captures user traffic on more than 40,000 sites across the net.

When visiting webpages, the firm says, 11 to 13 per cent of internal Google machines display browser user agents that are completely empty. And judging from the behavior of these machines, Net Applications is confident they're operated by real people. "We are quite certain it’s not the Google search spider," Net Applications' Vince Vizzaccaro tells The Reg.

Net Applications would not provide additional information, and when we contacted Google, the company declined to comment - multiple times.

Late last week, Net Applications told InternetNews - and The Reg - that these Google machines were leaving user agents where only the operating system was stripped out. Vizzacarro has now told The Reg that this characterization was not true, that the user agents in question are stripped of everything. But his initial claim led InternetNews to speculate that Google was testing some sort of new-fangled operating system behind its firewall - and the rumor was off and running.

A browser user agent not only identifies the browser a machine is using, but also its operating system.

It's well known that Google uses its own version of Ubuntu Linux - dubbed Goobuntu. And at one point, according to a former employee, engineers also used a customized version of RedHat known as GRHat. But this employee - who did not work with the core engineering team - was unaware of Google using a proxy server or any other means of blanking out user agents.

In the past, Google and Ubuntu boss Mark Shuttleworth have denied that Mountain View has any interest in distributing Goobuntu outside the company.

But as Google beefs up its online office apps and builds out massive data centers across the planet, the world has long assumed that the search giant would one day build its own "cloud OS" - an operating system that depends heavily on web-based services.

And that may be the case. But blank user agents are no proof of it. If Google were attempting to hide an internal operating system, it could just as easily change the OS identifier in its user agents to something run-of-the-mill rather than blank the agents out entirely.

Johann Burkard, a programmer and webmaster who closely tracks browser user agents, says that empty agents account for less than one per cent of the traffic he sees. But he tells us he has not seen the Google traffic Net Applications speaks of, and he doesn't see why Google would do such a thing.

Burkard blocks traffic with empty user agent headers and many other webmasters do the same. And he agrees that if Google were testing a top secret OS, disguising it as Windows or an ordinary Linux would make the most sense.

So why is Net Applications seeing what it's seeing? ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
'Stop dissing Google or quit': OK, I quit, says Code Club co-founder
And now a message from our sponsors: 'STFU or else'
Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE
Tim Berners-Lee isn't happy, but we should be
Microsoft boots 1,500 dodgy apps from the Windows Store
DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! DEVELOPERS! Naughty, misleading developers!
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Mozilla's 'Tiles' ads debut in new Firefox nightlies
You can try turning them off and on again
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Top 10 endpoint backup mistakes
Avoid the ten endpoint backup mistakes to ensure that your critical corporate data is protected and end user productivity is improved.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Backing up distributed data
Eliminating the redundant use of bandwidth and storage capacity and application consolidation in the modern data center.
The essential guide to IT transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIOs automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.