21
Nov 09

Investing in Chrome futures

Not sure about the logo, but the idea is cool

Google throws down its rubbery gauntlet

What is it about our industry that turns lovable, people-focused startups into evil monoliths bent on world domination?

Will Google, having seduced us with their genius, begin to shift their focus from our hearts to our wallets?

I’m actually a huge fan of Google and the countless cool things they’ve done. I will happily give them the benefit of every doubt. But last Friday they gave the world a sneak peek of their Chrome OS. That’s when my inner cynic started to get a little feisty with my inner optimist.

There’s no denying the idea of Chrome OS. It’s a netbook minus Microsoft, a device with tiny storage and huge potential. It will put your all your files and applications in the cloud, accessible anytime, anywhere, virus-free. That’s all good. It’s the rest of the story that starts sounding a little dark.

Chrome is a browser. Chrome OS is a browser-based OS. But it comes with a catch: you can’t install it on any ol’ netbook. The only way you can get it is to buy a pre-loaded netbook from one of Google’s partners, who will then write a check to Google. Even the ever-benevolent Microsoft lets you buy Windows and load it into the device of your choosing.

So it seems that Google is getting ready to try on the evil emperor’s new clothes. We’ll see how that fits.

Lack of device freedom aside, Chrome OS really is a step toward a future that makes a hell of a lot of sense. We may have grown used to the status quo, but it’s insanity for tens of millions to pony up for powerfully equipped machines, buy personal storage, maintain personal apps, worry about security/viruses and manage their own backups. Future generations will be amazed that we could waste resources and duplicate efforts on such a massive scale.

So I do think Google is working with the right roadmap. I just hope they won’t be tempted by that detour marked “get rich and enslave mankind.”

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  • Cory

    And…. what about advertisements on your desktop (IMO – no thanks)…. and what if the cloud goes down?

    Too many questions… will Chrome run Window’s applications? It needs to at least let someone open and modify office applications (not too hard to build or get built)… but will it be dependant on a connection and how much will that connecting be?

    I’d rather have my iPhone which is tethered right now to my MacBook Pro…. which is a FREE connection. If I need to look something up quickly or access a cloud file, I can use my iPhone and my DropBox, I don’t think I would be willing to pay for this because I have everything I need right now and it’s all free. It’s not like I can swap my cell phone for this new ChromeOS machine and I’m certain that the new Google ChromeOS netbook is going to be sold with a data plan from the cellular network provider.

    There is a market for these small machines… I think that Apple will figure it out… but they need to be able to get tethered data from another device and/or these cell networks need to allow customers to have one account and not nickel and dime us because we have more then one device… because I had a wireless stick and as soon as iPhone allowed tethering in version 3… I just gave it away and saved over $30 per month in the process.

    So… IMO… Google is getting greedy here… they think they can say the OS is FREE…. and then people will allow advertisements (revenue source 1 for Google) and they will get a percentage of the hardware sales running it (revenue source 2) and they will get a fee from the cell carriers (revenue source 3 – maybe tied into #2) and then they will charge a storage fee or at least one if you go over a certain limit (revenue source 4).

  • Don’t go. It’s a cookbook!!!

  • sfmitch

    Huh?

    “The only way you can get it is to buy a pre-loaded netbook from one of Google’s partners, who will then write a check to Google.”

    Is it suddenly so horrible to tie software to hardware (iPhone, Blackberry, Android, Kindle, PSP, Zune, XBox, etc.)??

    Wait till the product(s) are real and decide if it is a good value proposition. If Google is trying to come with a new way to use / own / buy a PC then let’s see what they’ve got. I don’t see the reason for outrage.

    Pointing to Microsoft to show best practices is a complete joke!

  • Well… that’s not exactly true. You can run it TODAY on a netbook of your own without paying Google a dime. In fact the whole OS stack is free software.

    What they won’t do is SUPPORT it on hardware other then that designed for it. This seems rather reasonable.

    What you can run it on today: http://sites.google.com/a/chromium.org/dev/chromium-os/getting-dev-hardware/dev-hardware-list You can also run it on VMWare for testing and development.

    Google does some things that aren’t in my mind on the up and up, but Chrome OS isn’t one of them.

  • ken segall

    @sfmitch:

    Not sure where you’re seeing “outrage” from me. Don’t got none. I thought I was pretty clear that I love Google, and only feel some apprehension that they might want to own this category as Microsoft owns PCs. Currently, Google is wide open. You can tap their tools from any platform — and now they’re talking about creating a new platform that’s exclusively theirs. Thus, my bit of cynicism.

    I don’t think there’s anything horrible about linking hardware with software as you point out with all those smaller devices. You choose these devices because you like the hardware and the OS. Then you can customize your device with software written by all the great developers who support it. With PCs, you can choose from zillions of apps, and even switch OSes if you wish. If this is what Google plans, fine. Let’s just also be fair and note that this represents a shift in the way Google makes money.

    As you point out, the product isn’t here yet. It won’t be here for some time. So absolutely, let’s all meet back here when there’s a product we can critique. It might be great. It might not be. It might evolve significantly from what they’re talking about now.

    And … you did get that my Microsoft comment was a joke, right?

  • what will we all do when Adobe (and other app makers) go cloud server?

    i for one will be thankful. monthly or per usage subscriber rates. no updates. no boxes or manuals to mail. no need to worry if the person or agency on the receiving end is current on their software and no need to worry if the ‘server’ goes down… no real server, but linked pathways with mirrored backups…

    all of which allows the computer makers to focus on faster, cheaper machines… when was the last time the global Halo servers went down? or Google, for that matter? i’ve retrieved emails from Google i lost or deleted on my end…

    and no real privacy issues, your work stays on your end unless you opt to store it in the cloud… doesn’t sound too shabby to me, but what do i know? Google might be off to a shaky start, but compare this to Apples Lisa or the Next Cube or AT&Ts original tablet project back in the late 90’s… it’s at least a start…

  • Mike

    I think there are many things missing here, both in the article and in the comment section. Please, let me explain:

    The Internet is what it is because of how it was designed. “It’s not big because is the Internet, it’s the Internet because is big.” (1) In the words of Jonathan Zittrain (2), the Internet became what it is because it is generative, it’s a technology that allows developers to build upon it. The Personal Computer is the same, it grew because it wasn’t a tethered appliance, but a generative piece of hardware that was able to perform any given task with the appropriate software.

    However, some companies are now turning to tethered appliances touting end user’s security and easiness as their main premises. Apple has now a platform (the iPhone, of course) that only allows to run software they approve. Two worm attacks on jailbroken iPhones (3) (4) prove that they may be right. Let’s not forget that when Apple introduced the iPhone, Jobs was very clear in saying that it ran a stripped down version of Mac OS X. That does not only means that it cannot do as much as a Mac, but also that there where some compromises they had to accept before marketing it. Thus, the fact that the iPhone can only run Apple approved software has two main purposes: one, a better user experience, and two, better security. Google is trying to offer the exact same premises, but relying on the cloud (whatever the cloud might be).

    Lack of freedom when choosing a device is not the only thing to be concerned about. What about security? Let’s take Google Voice mail as an example (5). If all of your content is on the web, will it be possible to access it by anyone. Shouldn’t that be a bigger concern than the hardware you are using? And what about privacy? Imagine the Principal of your kid’s school works on a Google Chrome computer. All your kids records, containing parent’s names, address, economic situation, grades, development, etc., will be up there, in “the cloud”. Who owns that content, the principal or Google, who provides the servers? Will Google be able to erase your files if they think they are inappropriate as Amazon did with Orwell’s books? (6) Who will be in charge of moderating people’s speech? Google?

    I know those where many rhetorical questions, but I don’t give any answers because nobody has come with one. At least, not with a good one.

    Google Chrome OS also raises some technical questions that might not make it suitable for all users (7). Combine technical difficulties with legal issues and you have the perfect recipe for a disaster.

    Some scholars have proposed that regulation over the Internet should be made thought code (8), but that doesn’t seem to be the best solution. Technical issues oppose legal issues. What an engineer think is a great idea, a lawyer think is a great problem and vice versa.

    Google is known for first doing and then asking for permission. Just give a look at the Google Books case. Google looks at this as means to make revenue, not as the solution to consumer’s problems.

    I know that I’m citing too many sources, but knowledge is power (9). Please try to read everything before posting a response, since I’m skipping a lot of issues due to limitations of time and space.

    Regarding Google Chrome OS, I believe many people are looking at the wrong issues. But I’m afraid we will see the first official release of Google Chrome OS before we are able to answer any of these questions.

    (1) http://jeffersonsmoose.org/
    (2) http://futureoftheinternet.org/static/ZittrainTheFutureoftheInternet.pdf
    (3) http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/09/11/09/first_known_iphone_worm_rickrolls_jailbroken_apple_handsets.html
    (4) http://www.engadget.com/2009/11/23/jailbroken-iphones-exposed-to-second-worm-this-time-malicious/
    (5) http://www.boygeniusreport.com/2009/10/19/random-users-google-voice-mail-is-searchable-by-anyone/
    (6) http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/technology/companies/18amazon.html
    (7) http://www.engadget.com/2009/11/19/editorial-chrome-os-is-what-i-want-but-not-what-i-need/
    (8) http://pdf.codev2.cc/Lessig-Codev2.pdf
    (9) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scientia_potentia_est

  • Hmmm…..time to get some work done. Oh, wait…..my router is on the fritz. Guess I can’t get to my files.

    **EPIC FAIL**

    I may be a little short sighted, but this cloud based future is just not for me. Great for backing up critical files and sharing and so on. But to use a cloud based system for daily work? NA GA HA. I’m a 39 yr. old pro-photog and I’m a tech head. What demographic are they going for? I dunno…..i just don’t see it for mission critical work.

  • ken segall

    @marino:
    I really think this where it will all go ultimately. It’s hard to believe that we can ever work with our pro apps this way, but what starts working for 95% of the world’s users will blaze the trail for the high-end uses, I’m sure. You’re right, all the great ideas start off with these baby steps. Personally, I wonder what Apple is planning in this area. It’s too obvious that the world is going this way, and they can’t just sit back and let it pass them by. Maybe the iTablet will be a lot more cloud-oriented than we’re thinking…

  • and to keep things in perspective, it’s not the cloud will still interact with us via the same routers we are using now, which is quite a simple and cheap thing to fix via your local BestBuy…

    cloud based thinking, in other words, non disk drive based server via cable to me thinking, will require much new technology and innovation in all aspects of involvement: how big is the cloud? what’s the backup? how does it get me? and on and on…

    and to Doug’s point: i’m a 56 year old art director and i can’t wait for the cloud. i think the demographic they’re shooting for is anyone that feels their work is more important than the tools used to create that work., and anyone that wants a faster, better way to be productive and interactive.

    we all heard things like this when email became prevalent, then when ad-send high-res PDF’s were first used to get our files to the printers without the need for disks, hell… we can trace fear of the new all the way back to when radio supplanted affiches as the major marketing method…

  • Drew Hall

    I’m going to withhold judgment on clouds and the companies leveraging them for now. I agree with Ken, this is where IT/Computing is going…its just how long it will take and how many bumps in the road there will be along the way. I assume we will see some outrage over clouds failing over the next few years and then it will be the standard “how did we ever live without this!!”

    …just in time for the next breakthrough ;)

    It also doesn’t bother me that Google is designing all of this to work on specific hardware. I think that is a necessary evil for the beginning. My hope is, though, that it wouldn’t end up like that when all is said and done.

  • Todd

    Cloud computing is just a fancy reskinning of the old fashioned mainframe or thin client setup. Yes, I know I work for people whose livelihood depends on being able to sell ice to eskimos, but that doesn’t mean I have to always drink the Kool-aid. And like a previous commenter mentioned, if my home router fails for any reason – I’m completely dead in the water.

    Let’s pull everything back to a single point of failure, and not worry that there’s a public company with everyone’s EVERYTHING out there.

    It’s hard enough securing your home setup – once people start putting real important data “out there” somewhere, the hackers will go after it in droves.

    I think having some application services out there are great, particularly for certain specialized applications that you would use infrequently, but I know IT geeks and when you have thousands of engineers involved with watching over your goodies, there’s going to be at least one without the best of intentions. And that’s how your personal information gets out there.

    I’m also not a fan of Google’s direction of the ad-supported OS. I don’t want them tracking any more of what I do than they already can. I try to spread my data around a little – share the wealth between the various Micro-Goo-Hoo engines. But if they become a clearinghouse for every little thing you do, type or say via your computer… that will be a sad day indeed.

  • Drew mentioned: “It also doesn’t bother me that Google is designing all of this to work on specific hardware. I think that is a necessary evil for the beginning.” Just like Apple… one OS line for one machine line, not compatible with any others even though they’re all so similar inform and function…

    and to soothe Todd’s fears of ‘epic failure’, let’s remember: it’s not one server or system that makes a cloud, it’s hundreds, possibly thousands, spread across various locations with redundant arrays mirroring and backing up (if the Kansas farm goes down, the Marseilles farm has it all and is still up)… ‘real important data’ is already out there: your bank records are all digital, every purchase you’ve ever made online, every time you’ve entered your SS# or credit card or phone # online anywhere is still out there, online… people that want your information are not going to hack YOUR computer… they’re going after TRW or Morgan Chase or Amex…

    and if we could remember that most of us are NOT the average users? ‘special apps’, and all that that implies are not the norm… the majority want to upload pictures of friends and family (already online thanks to my friend Flickr), balance their checkbooks and finances (already online thanks to every major bank in the world), connect with friends and family (already online thanks to FB, MySpace et al) and buy stuff (already online thanks to Amazon and its kindred sites)…

    it seems the cloud is pretty much already here and we’ve settled in quite nicely…

  • Marian

    Isn’t the “cloud” idea an old idea, tried more than 10 years ago by Oracle and SUN, called Network Computer (NC)?

  • yeah the idea has been kicking around for quite a while, sort of waiting for technology to catch up… i would imagine that now, with flash drives holding over 128 GB’s of space (and growing) and bandwidth and line speed expanding while costs become competitive, it might be closer to getting to a near working state?

    to make a bad analogy: we had the helicopter as an old sketch in some italian guys notebook way before someone thought that technology caught up to it and made it real…