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EDITORIAL – Google’s expanding (evil?) empire

g-evil(Thanks to Parallel Divergence for the image!)

Google’s been on quite the update frenzy of late.  First they remove the beta label from a slew of their cloud apps, then they go and announce that they’re going where few have dared to tread and attempt to release a complete OS.  All within the course of two days!

Let me preface all my commentary by saying that I am a Googler.  They own my a**.  I live in Gmail.  My life is managed completely through GCal.  I have two sites I manage that are drivien by GApps.  I am moving more and more of my files into GDocs.  I now get 99% of my daily news and information via GReader.  I have a Google Voice number.  Most of my web surfing outside of work is done on Chrome.  I am so Googled, I may have their logo tattooed on my back.  Suffice it to say that I use their products to the point where they are indistinguishable parts of my life.  So I would be a natural for their OS right?

Well, not exactly.  What disturbs me about all this is that Google seems to be heading right where Microsoft was a few years ago.  At what point does Google become a defacto monopoly?  They already own something like 2/3 of all the world’s search.  I know their growth is slowing and they are looking for more ways to embed themselves into the fabric of our lives (especially our corporate lives).  And I totally agree with the arguments that Google’s various apps (mail especially) have been out of beta for the past year or longer, and that they only kept the beta tag so that the techies could claim to be using an “advanced” product.  Now that that tag is starting to hurt them in the enterprise sales market, they removed it from a bunch of apps that are at various stages of development.  Gmail is one thing but Google Voice?  C’mon – they only just started taking new requests for numbers.  If they followed the same approach with the GrandCentral acquisition that they did with all their other acquisitions, then they basically re-architected the whole thing to fit Google.  You can’t tell me they did that in a year to the point where it can be considered reliable from an enterprise perspective.

And that’s the key issue – there is no announced standard by which Google is declaring a technology as being out of beta.  Does the fact that Gmail is no longer in beta mean that my uptime guarantee is higher?  Or am I still at the “reasonable effort” level of service?  Many companies just won’t hand over critical infrastructure to Google (or any other outsourcer) for less than 99.999% uptime guarantees, and many cloud-based services just aren’t there.  And email, while vital, isn’t yet on the same level as phone service.  Can you imagine trying to dial a number and not being able to?  We can’t because (short of natural disaster or emergency), when we pick up a phone, we get a tone.  It’s so ingrained in us that we just assume it to be the truth.  Google’s not there yet.

At least with their OS ambitions, they are starting small.  A lightweight, web-centric OS is perfect for netbooks.  Even with XP, a netbook will get sloggy – so a super version of Chrome could do wonders for speed and performance of these primary cloud-focused products.  But what’s going to kill the G-OS (and most other web-centric OS’s) is that people don’t like being limited.  When they go to a web site, no matter what the platform, they want it to work.  When they get an application, they want to be able to use it.  Most users don’t want to think “is X compatible with Y”, which apparently is such a foreign concept to product designers and techies that to this day it continues to boggle them when people complain that stuff won’t work together.  The only company that’s really gotten the closest to “getting” this is Apple, and, with the release of the iPhone 3GS, we’ll see how long that singlemindedness lasts.  It’s very possible we’ll start seeing apps that focus exclusively on the 3GS because of its faster performance and enhanced graphics capability.  At that point, fragmentation can’t be too far behind.

So am I looking forward to the G-OS?  Yes, but I have my doubts as to its reception and success in the market.  And with each expansion of Google’s scope, I become more convinced that they will become our defacto overlords.  At least I’ll have identified myself to them as a loyal minion.

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