Archive for the 'Google' Category

Is it a bird? Is it an OS? No it’s SuperBrowser!

Google’s new browser, Chrome, has been generating more column inches than I can believe. Outwardly, it’s a browser. “I think it is a web browser. I don’t think it is the first or the best browser,” says Dean Hachamovitch, general manager of Internet Explorer (and he’s right). It’s difficult to see from the thing itself why it’s causing such a stir.

One reason it’s getting so much coverage is that many people think this is Google finally deciding to compete with Microsoft on shared turf. Here comes Google, like some big geeky gunslinger, ready to blow away the evil empire. Some of you may remember Gates himself predicting that the browser would defeat the OS. This is why Microsoft went on to destroy Netscape, and then slowly allow their own browser, IE, to decay so badly.

Seeing the end of Windows in this browser seems a little overblown given the product itself. It’s a pretty straightforward bit of work for the search giant, with nothing particularly revolutionary. The rendering engine is the same used for Safari and (on the whole) Konqueror. They’ve come up with a nice touch in the separate process for each tab and plugin – it’s a great idea, but it’s not revolutionary (Firefox on 64 bit linux does the same to get 32-bit plugins like Flash to run). They’ve written their own Javascript interpreter and JIT compiler, which is certainly not trivial, but again is hardly revolutionary.

Overall, compared to the squabillions Google have spent on search this racks up as another little project like gmail or google maps. It throws down the gauntlet to everyone else in the space, and shows how well you can do these days if you aren’t Microsoft – but as a product it’s no revolution.

So, why do people think this bit of software can destroy Windows? Partly it’s because the Microsoft hegemony is already dying all by itself. You don’t need to run Windows to use the Internet, and a lot of us work very successfully in heterogeneous networks now – some people on Macs, some on Linux, sometimes using mobiles and all sorts. This was completely unheard of 10 years ago – everyone had to run Windows, and it had to be closely managed by a dedicated IT team. It’s not uncommon now to see people in meetings using Eee PCs, and a lot of them still with Linux on them.

So, why the big deal over the browser? If it’s happening already, why does this new browser matter so much?

Truthfully, I don’t know. Firefox is an excellent product on Mac and Linux, although a lot of people claim it’s not so hot on Windows. I’m not a Windows user so I can’t say. For the average user, Chrome could be better than FF on Windows already. But then, if they just wanted a good browser, Google contribute a lot of developers to Mozilla, and could certainly have improved Firefox instead of developing Chrome.

I suspect for Google the minor outlay on developing a browser was worth it just to see what happened. They have shown before that they like to put the cat amongst the pigeons. They have said as much themselves – if their contribution forces IE8 to improve that will benefit Google more than it does anyone. The better people experience the web, the more pages they’ll see, and that’s more revenue for Google.

Also, there are people out there who will never use Firefox because it’s not backed by a big corporation. Many of us find that inexplicable, but I’m betting overall that Chrome will eat more of IE’s market share than it does Firefox’s. Again, that has to be a win for Google.

So, not an attempt to destroy Windows, just a low cost experiment in improving their ecosystem. Seen like that it makes a lot of sense. And if it gives them a lot of newspaper coverage and scares Microsoft – well, that’s nice too isn’t it.

The Microsoft / Yahoo Deal

Microsoft are going to buy Yahoo!. No way this isn’t going to happen now. Shareholders will love it and the only place where the combined company might trouble competition authorities is in webmail – which they don’t care about.

Microsoft have just bought one great big heap of trouble. Tens of thousands of FreeBSD boxes running PHP. They found digesting Hotmail famously hard. Yahoo is going to be way harder.

Microsoft’s motivation here has to be the growing, and obvious, realisation that they are incapable of competing with Google in their current form. Google are full of smart new ideas and they manage to pull enough of them off to be a truly innovative company.

Microsoft, OTOH, are culturally incapable of innovating. They haven’t ever invented anything new, and I don’t see that changing.

(A long digression. Clearly any sort of software development involves innovation somewhere. So when Microsoft copied VisiCalc to make Excel, yes there was some innovation. Same when they copied the PARC UI to make Windows.

In a January 2001 article, The business of software: the laws of software process, there’s a discussion of process in software, and where it works, and where it doesn’t.

The interesting bit of the article uses levels of ignorance to evaluate where process works – the more ignorant you are about a subject, the less process is applicable to it.

If you sort of take the reciprocal of this idea you get a structure for levels of innovation. The greatest innovation happens where you know nothing, where you have to invent the problem space itself, or perhaps even the basic terms of reference.

Google really grok this. Nobody out there was saying ‘hey, what I really need in my life is a zoomable, rotatable model of the Earth!’. Even less was someone suggesting they’d pay for it. Yet Google Earth is probably one of their most valuable properties in the long term (honest).

Now back to your regularly scheduled transmission).

Microsoft are good at taking requirements they understand from people in business they understand, and delivering pretty good applications. And then screwing them for every last penny they possibly can. They’re just a great big boring old software shop.

From Powerpoint to the DRM hydra that is Vista, they’ve got a clear picture in their head of the Dude in a Suit that they’re aiming at. Bully for them. However Microsoft Powerpoint does not the Interweb win.

From a Microsoft analysis (remember, the only people they really care about are Dudes in Suits – the rest of us are NPCs) what they need to beat Google is scale. If only they get enough eyeballs, some of them will be Dude in a Suit Eyeballs who might buy Microsoft Visio 2008 Dude in a Suit Edition. Yahoo gives them eyeballs, some of which indeed might be tricked into buying a Microsoft product, perhaps whilst drunk or distracted or operating heavy machinery or something.

They certainly don’t give two hoots about some of the really spiffing technology Yahoo have. It would be insane to try and move all of Yahoo onto a Windows platform, but I think that’s just what they’ll do. It’s like the biggest case of cognitive dissonance ever. “We bought Yahoo because they were better than us and we really needed them… but our software is better! hell yeah!”

Where they’ve got a parallel product they’ll port the data and the users to their own product (i.e. Hotmail) and shut down the Yahoo offering (Yahoo! Mail) – even when the Yahoo offering (Yahoo! Mail) is the best available anywhere.

Like John Gruber says, the weird boutique items (Flickr) will be sold off or spun off. Not enough Dudes in Suits use Flickr, and the opportunity for selling them Office upgrades is limited. They are mostly filthy mac users anyway.

I have to think this is going to be a slow train crash, punctuated by the screams of loyal Yahoo users as they flee. If I were a Yahoo shareholder I’d take the cash and put it straight into Google.

The best quote I’ve seen (via Daring Fireball) is from Andy Baio: It’s like tying the Titanic to the iceberg. It’d keep you from sinking just long enough to freeze to death.

Sharing in Google Reader

This has been bubbling along for a few days now. Google have added some actual sharing functionality to their “share” function in Google Reader. I’ve been using it anyway – you can see my shared items on the side of my blog.

Now your shared items will be visible to your contacts in gmail or google talk. On the whole this seems OK – the whole point of sharing is to make them public.

There has been something of a backlash however, some of it reasonable and some rather less so. The reasonable point is that people were using the shared feed (a private RSS feed) to share items with a restricted set of people.

Most people, including me, have gmail and gtalk contacts who are friends and some who are business contacts. Now the gap between personal me and professional me is pretty small, but I am definitely the exception – and in my early twenties the gap was much larger. I have just become more boring, something I wouldn’t necessarily encourage. Many, more interesting, people are horrified at the idea of random professional contacts seeing their feeds.

Even for those of us with closely related professional and personal lives we manage those with a different conversational register, for which there does appear to be an emerging sort of protocol. This blog is my personal blog. We have a work blog too, but this is just me speaking for myself. I can say things here I wouldn’t say on the work blog not because I’m concerned that my professional contacts might see it, some of them probably will (hi there!), but because I trust them to understand that we do in fact legitimately have personal lives that diverge from our professional ones. Incidentally this blog isn’t private – if I wanted something to be private, I wouldn’t put it on the Internet (duh).

So, that point seems very fair to me – there needs to be more granularity in sharing. Share with specific users, or with groups or with all my contacts or with everyone.  Edit: And lo, they have. Not the best thought out solution, but having to roll it out on Christmas day won’t have cheered them up any.  Full marks.  I imagine a better solution will come along shortly.

There have been some other complaints. One that I’ve seen is that people have been using the sharing feed for random other things, and that now those other things won’t work. Well tough really I think.

And finally you get idiots like Cyndy Aleo-Carreira at Profy.com, normally a pretty good tech news site, who has written this appallingly researched rubbish that is basically just full of lies.

I’d probably get all annoyed about how the blogosphere is so much less reliable than Mainstream Media now – except of course when this is picked up by the newspapers I expect they’ll do even less research, and publish even more rubbish.

Googlepaedia?

Encouraging people to contribute knowledge, a post on the official google blog seems to be trumpeting the arrival of a Google competitor to Wikipaedia.   It works in a rather different way though – instead of a single authoritative article on a subject, each article will have a single author and there can be multiple articles on the same subject.

This means there is no need for direct editorial control – Google’s contribution extends only to which articles are offered in response to which searches.  On this subject Udi Manber has no fear that this presents too much of a challenge:

Once testing is completed, participation in knols will be completely open, and we cannot expect that all of them will be of high quality. Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge. We are very excited by the potential to substantially increase the dissemination of knowledge.

Of course Google’s commercial motivation is never far away:

At the discretion of the author, a knol may include ads. If an author chooses to include ads, Google will provide the author with substantial revenue share from the proceeds of those ads.

It remains to be seen how well this works of course.  Wikipedia’s famed Neutral Point of View is an unattainable goal in reality, however the attempt to achieve it has a lot of value and the compromises some otherwise irreconcilable communities have achieved on Wikipedia is impressive.

I look forward to seeing how Google deal with the inevitable edit and comment war that will accompany contentious subjects, particularly the rather random set of subjects that comprise the US Culture Wars: Abortion, the Iraq War, the United Nations, Gun Control and the rest.

If they can deal with these without human intervention then maybe Google really can bring world peace :)

Google life?

I posted this mostly for Andy, since he has turned his judgemental eye on [Second Life](http://secondlife.com/) and declared it substandard. I don’t disagree with any of his points (which mostly revolve around 1. lag and 2. wtf do you do once you are there?), but I suspect the genre, as it were, has quite a long way to go and it’s kind of interesting to watch while it goes on.

Anyhow since I seem to be Google obsessed as it is, here’s [Arrington’s interesting take](http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/01/24/googles-metaverse/) on a Google Earth/Checkout/Stuff mashup, and how Google might be the ones to build a real virtual environment. They’ve certainly got the bits if they care to join them together. Maybe this is why they are buying hosting centres all over the globe?

Internet Television, part II

As I [said recently](http://adju.st/2007/01/love_the_linux_weenies.html), I think Microsoft’s maneuverings in Vista are targeted largely at a future where you get all of your media, most importantly television, via a computer.

Cringely has come to a [similar conclusion regarding Google](http://www.pbs.org/cringely/pulpit/2007/pulpit_20070119_001510.html). It’s got some interesting numbers:

>Of course this doesn’t answer the question why Google needs so much capacity in the first place, but I have a theory on that. I think Google is building for a future they see but most of the rest of us don’t. I’ll go further and guess that Google is planning to build similar data centers in many states and that the two centers they are apparently preparing to build here in South Carolina are probably intended mainly to SERVE South Carolina. That’s perhaps 100,000 servers for four million potential users or 40 users per server. What computing service could possibly require such resources?

> The answer is pretty simple. Google intends to take over most of the functions of existing fixed networks in our lives, notably telephone and cable television.

Out of Microsoft and Google one is following a strategy of breathtaking depth and real vision. The other is trying to rob it’s customers blind with a bean counters miserable pennypinching. Guess which one I reckon is going to win?

Google’s master plan

It’s all [revealed](http://picasaweb.google.com/cdibona/RIPGoogleMasterPlan/photo#4979945846336323602)!

Google acquire YouTube

So it’s true — Google Has Acquired YouTube. Props to the YouTube guys for the best possible acquisition deal. I think props to Google too – if anyone can monetize YouTube, they can.

This does leave Yahoo looking like the bridesmaid here though, in many ways YouTube is a better fit for them, because of the community angle. YouTube’s community offering seems very poor to me, although I suspect it is more important than it seems. The real value of it is to the posters of the videos, who get feedback, even if in terms only of number of eyeballs.

The big question is the one about copyrights, but it does seem like Google is the behemoth here, and not the media companies. I think the various media companies have realised that sueing the very people who distribute their stuff is a pretty weird business model, and that doing deals with them makes a lot more sense.

It would be a shame if a lot of the creative uses of copyright content were stopped though – the blatant ripping off of tv shows isn’t so interesting.

Google looking over your shoulder

I was doing some work for one of my clients this morning, setting up some online payment stuff. There were a sequence of forms, and you had to view them in order.

If you view one form out of order you’ll get an error, as it tries to examine the data posted by the previous form.

I noticed that while I was debugging, after I submitted, I’d get three or four errors from intermediate forms, after i’d posted. This was really weird.

After a lot of being confused I realised it was google, examining the pages because they had google ads on them. Presumably the google ad transmits some data about the current page to google, and if google hasn’t looked at it recently it goes and has a butchers to see what it looks like.

Presumably the ad was displaying ok, so it told google about it, but when google visited it would get a 500 response, because of the error, and so wouldn’t store the visit – so every time it gets displayed, google goes and has a look.

The Internet can be very weird sometimes.