Jul 28, 2009
Most people don't even know what an Operating System (OS) is - will they care about Chrome, even if it is Open Source?
Often I'm asked by friends with little knowledge of the world of computers to recommend a laptop or desktop machine for their home use. Although I'm still a fan of Linux, these days I nearly always suggest that they pick the Mac they most like the look of. A long string of questions and answers then ensues. Generally the enquirer's husband/mother/friend/uncle will have suggested some brand of PC running the latest incarnation of Windows, so my suggestion can come as a bit of a shock. Why would someone that appears to know what they're talking about even think about suggesting a computer that doesn't run the the programs that Auntie Betty's machine can?
It's into this world that Google Chrome has burst on the scene. Its tantalising open source goodness means that all us techies are itching to try it out, but does Auntie Betty want to use it? Will she even notice it?
In recent times the "netbook" has become a bit of a breakaway from the general home computing scene - often these things (generally the cheaper ones) are powered by alternative OSes (usually a shade of Linux). Strangely non-windows netbooks do sell, sometimes to ordinary people. When I went into the shop to buy one for my daughter I was summarily informed that I didn't want one of these because it didn't run Windows. When I retorted that this was one of its major selling points, I got a strange look as if to say that I know nothing about these things.
Maybe I do know nothing about what the average person wants. Maybe the ideal world would be one where everyone runs Microsoft and we all share the same viruses, sorry, I mean "binary compatible code". Probably when the ChromeOS netbooks appear the salesman I enountered will still try to push buyers onto a more expensive machine with "better compatibility".
Sadly, for all us geeks out there, this is where marketing can do what years of volunteer effort has failed to do - package up the advantages of open source for the uninformed user and gain market share in the face of a competitor who starts with a huge advantage.
After the launch of Android, Google should have a fair idea whether or not Auntie Betty will be getting a ChromeOS machine next and whether she will like it. I hope for her sake, and everyone else's, that they get it right.
Jun 02, 2009
Can Google's new masterpiece really take the world by storm?
It's a rare moment at Openia when we stop what we're doing to watch the same video on Youtube, and an 80 minute long one at that. Google's Wave presentation has such an air of occasion about it, that it would seem churlish not to take the time to watch. But is there any substance behind the understated-but-we-know-we're-good Google glitz? There are some pretty powerful applications out there, including many excellent web-based ones, so what exactly is it that makes Google Wave the "killer app" that so many claim it is?
First, it's important to recognise what Wave isn't - it's not one single new idea, it's a bunch of very small, but important, changes to a lot of other ideas which have been brought together. So the first thing we realise is that Wave owes a lot to other technologies. In so doing it stands on the shoulders of giants such as email, blogs, forums, social networking and instant messaging. (Even some of the "new" ideas, such as the ability to watch your correspondent as they are typing the individual letters and words of their message are not that original - "Phone" on VAX/VMS had such a feature back in the 1980s.)
Secondly, although it's a great piece of work, expertly delivered (from what we can tell from the video) it is in many ways completely inevitable. It was only a matter of time before blogs and email and messaging were integrated in some way - it is a technology waiting to happen. That it has happened in one big jump makes it more exciting, but you can rest assured that we would have got there eventually. That said it is reassuring to have Google at the helm at moments like this, rather than some of the alternatives.
But the part which makes this the app which will replace email, IM and many other messaging tools in all our lives is the fact that it is released as a protocol, and an open one at that. So anyone can write their own Google Wave compatible applications and talk to anyone else's. This is what makes Email the current primary choice for messaging - there is no need for everyone to use the same provider. Provider choice is key for planning communications, and Google are big enough to know that they can't be the only provider in the world without poisoning the well for all of us. One has to wonder whether if this technology had been constructed by Microsoft or Apple (for example) that it would have been used as a tool to try to secure market share, rather than making the world a better place for us all.
As a microblog, Wave might only be an incremental change from Twitter, and as a Forum/Social Network it's only a few thought processes removed from Multiply or Facebook, and as an Instant Messenger it might be practically the same as Jabber, MSN or Yahoo; it's the combination of these facets and, more importantly, the openness and ubiquity of them that makes Wave unique, as will be evident when the makers of Twitter, Facebook and others present their offerings in a Wave-like way.
And if this all works out as it should, Wave will become the "glue" of the web.