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.