Friday, July 10, 2009

Is Google taking over the world, one app at a time?

Back when I was a kid in elementary school, there were several choices of computers, each with a different OS. There was the Apple, IMB, Atari had one, Tandy, Commodore (one of my favorite) and more. Today, when a consumer purchases a new computer the choice is simpler. Essentially there are two choices, PC or Apple. Certain Apple machines can run their own OS or Windows. Exciting! PC’s can run Windows or a Linux based OS. Yes there are more options out there, but let’s face it, these are your “real” choices. I’m stretching it when I include Linux for the PC. Most private consumers really don’t care what the OS is. They want it to work and have as low of a cost as they can. I know, I’m that way (ok, I’m really more complicated than that, and I don’t care so much if it doesn’t work as well as it should, but I’m funny that way.)
Why do you buy the type of computer that you do? That depends on what you want to do with it and what you need it to do for you. It also depends on the data you are using and who you need to collaborate with. What are they using? Can I share data with them? “Them” could be clients, vendors, family, friends, or fellow Twittiphiles you “know” but have never really met in “real life.”

If you have access the internet in the past few days you might have noticed Google’s BIG announcement. They are working on and planning to release their very own operating system. Speculation is rampant and many are just adopting a “wait and see” attitude. Google already has a cell phone OS called Android. I remember the hype when that topic was first discussed. It was there, people were excited, but not to the extent that Google Chrome OS is getting in these first few days. My first complaint is that it has the same or similar name to Google’s web browser, Chrome. I understand the branding to a degree; Chrome OS and Chrome go hand in hand. And when a user thinks of Chrome, they will think of Chrome OS, and vice versa, assuming it takes off.

The question of the day is, “Will Chrome OS replace Windows?” Or some version of that. Does Microsoft need to be concerned? Hmmmm, um, yeah! Why? (Am I talking to myself again?) Chrome OS is Linux based. That means it is built upon an open source program. Open Source (a term which Firefox has made better known to the general user) means that a base code is provided free of charge for anyone that wants to and can use and work with. It also means that Chrome OS will not be proprietary, which means they won’t be charging for it! I believe that the average Windows upgrade kit costs about $100 (USD) with a full out version around $200 and more, depending on the version you get (home, professional, etc.) That will cover a good hard drive or memory upgrade when you buy your computer. On a full desktop, that’s not much of a break, but on a netbook, that could be a price reduction of nearly 30%!! My family has three netbooks and each cost around $400. If they had Chrome OS, then take off estimates of $50 or more! Cheap, and I know have a highly mobile machine that can do anything, except major 3D design and gaming. But who does that anyway?

It seems that Google has a “Boil a Frog” approach going on. How do you “Boil a frog?” Well, if you boil a pot of water and then throw the frog in, it won’t like it and jump out. BUT if you put a frog in a pot of water and slowly apply heat to it, the frog won’t know it’s getting boiled. Now you have frog soup. Google didn’t start be releasing an OS, hoping we would all go and get it, know they started to indoctrinate us with a search engine, got us hooked (like a drug addict-first hits free) and essentially took over the web.

When Microsoft Windows came out, many moons ago, we (the computing world) need a standard OS that we could all use and love (or hate, but we need one standard.) Then they gave us (or at least got us addicted) to their software through various means, creation, purchase, etc. Now we have a standard, and it’s name is Windows. Users everywhere can share the same data knowing it will work on my machine and theirs. That is where Linux failed and where Chrome OS may prevail. Linux had the blessed desire, and worthy task, of providing us with a choice of operating systems. The problem with Linux is that I can’t use it. I can’t run the Windows based programs on it that my industry requires me to. Also, the makers of the software I “need” to use can’t produce it in Linux (or MAC) form because there aren’t enough Linux users to justify the cost. We are stuck with Windows. That’s ok by me, really, having one standard is the best option in my opinion, but who cares what I think, I’m just one guy with one blog and two readers.
If we want to have a real and legitimate choice in operating systems then they both have to work, almost interchangeably, or the programs we love and use have to work on either system. Which one is easier? I don’t know. I think that it will be easier for the user to change if it is slow and gradual, just like Google is doing.

Apple tried to give us a better machine and operating system for years, but they ran into two major problems: as above it can’t run my software, and 2 it cost more. Why would I spend more for something I can’t use? BUT for those that can use it, it’s worth the cost. So they ventured out to a new forum and gave us the iPod and iPhone. Good for them, and us. Now mp3 and smart phone producers are playing catch up to them. Is it easier to innovate in the tech world than it is to “catch up?” Seems as if it may be.

Enter Google, the topic of this article. Yahoo and others had the market cornered in the search engine category. I can still remember the TV commercials singing “Yaaahoooooooooooo!!!” Love it! I can’t say the word “yahoo” without singing it that way. Good branding. Well, now Google is a verb, not just a noun. Not too long ago my family and I spent a Friday night sitting around the couch and TV, each with a laptop, “Googeling” ourselves! What a bunch of nerds right? Come on, you’ve all done it, maybe not on a Friday night, but you’ve done it. Google got us hooked with their search engine, now Microsoft is trying to catch up with a new search engine, Bing. It’s different from Google, so they say, though I can’t tell you how. What happened to MSN? Don’t know, I’m a Googler.

Google then begins to slowly indoctrinate us with their apps, like Gmail, Calendar, etc. Google chat, Google video chat, and the mother lode, Google Docs!! YAY!! I love Google Docs. I can work on a document, spread sheet, or presentation from anywhere I have internet access. And now I can run Google Docs offline too! On that plane ride I took, I was able to write blog entries while flying! Don’t forget Google’s Blogger, Google Maps, Google Earth, and the other great online apps they bought like You Tube (yeah, I’ve heard of that) and Sketch Up. Sketch Up isn’t an online app, but you download it online, for free, and can design your next house with it!! Sort of.

The point is that Google has so many apps that there are very few needs of mine that Google can fill. Now, granted, Google doesn’t do anything as well as a paid software package does. Microsoft Office is far superior to Google Docs, no question. But will it always be that way? I don’t know. Google also has Groups (an online collaboration tool), Gmail (I think I mentioned that one earlier) Sites, Reader (to manage your RSS feeds), Knols (a sort of Wiki), and Sites (another online website/group interface.)

Google has given us a shotgun approach of apps. Try this, like it? Now try this. Yeah it’s not as good as such and such but it’s free and you can go to your local library and work, for free. Get it, free!! What’s that cost of Google upgrade? Nothing. How much to update your company’s MS Office software? Hundreds per employee. How many employees? Wow. Are you doing it? No, we are using more Google Apps now, they are free. Get the idea? Software as a service and Cloud Computing.

So, when Chrome OS comes out on a netbook in 2010 (yeah, that’s not that far away) I can get all I need for the price of the hardware, maybe $350. Done. My assistant now has a portable office in their backpack, just get a wireless card and they can work from anywhere.
How much to do that on a laptop with software that I have to purchase? Well, let’s say you spend $500 on a laptop, then a few hundred for the office type software, collaboration software, email software, calendar software, etc. Well, that’s a lot more than $350. Revenue is down? Ok, we can make the change.

Chrome OS’s success will not be because of Chrome OS, it will come because of Google’s web-like saturation of its apps and services. The other aspect of Google Apps is that all I need is a browser to run them. That means I can use them on a Mac, I can use them on a train, I can use them on a plane, I can use them with ham, I can use them to get spam, I can use them to buy ham, and, oh, well, you get the idea. Usability.

If Google can get Chrome OS (and Chrome) to ship with netbooks, and eventually laptops, then they will succeed and finally put a dent in Widnows. Can you dent a Window, or just shatter it?
People seem to be excited with Google’s Chrome OS, I know I am. Will I make the move when it comes out? On a netbook or laptop I will. But because I work in the design industry I need strong, memory hungry software that can only run on Windows. But that can change. If Chrome OS takes a foothold in the netbook world, then users may start to consider using it on a desktop. Keep in mind though, that now, the trend is to purchase Laptops, not desktops unless you really need the power. I can easily see the future giving us three types of computers, the Apple (for those creative types), the Windows PC (for those needing power) and the Chrome OS (for those needing office software, email, and internet). If Windows hold on the OS market diminishes significantly, then that will cause software developers to have to consider producing their product on multiple platforms, or to switch platforms altogether. Another option that may take hold will be to develop programs that run on products like Adobe’s AIR. AIR is essentially and adapter plate for your OS. AIR is developed to run on Apple’s Windows, Linux, etc. and then your software runs on AIR. It won’t matter what OS your clients use, all they need is AIR. This can take hold if every computer comes with and OS (any OS) and with AIR.
What must Google do to ensure the success of Chrome OS? Get it out there. Put it on machines when people buy it. Saturate the average consumer with the OS, make it mainstream, get as many people as possible using Cloud Computing via Google products, or other similar products. Keep it free but make the apps much more powerful. If I can chose between two similar products and one is free, then free wins. Google’s Chrome OS has a chance at capturing a significant portion of the OS market, as long as they have the apps to back it up.
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