Monday, July 27, 2009

Google's thin client distraction

Recently, Chris O'Brien at the San Jose Mercury News wrote:
It's getting harder every day to articulate what Google is. Is it a Web company? A software company? Something else entirely?

It's not just that it's hard to see how [Google's operating systems] fit into Google's stated mission. It's also that it's hard to explain to someone exactly what they are, or why they might, or might not, want to use them. Or to communicate why they are different from or better than any other things out there.

These new products have the whiff of engineers building things for other engineers, rather than you and me.
Even worse, these new products have the whiff of executives being unable to let go of their past battles.

For decades, Google CEO Eric Schmidt led Sun and Novell in mostly failed attempts to build thin client computers. At Google, Eric appears to be doing it again.

But Google is not a computer company. It is an advertising company. Google makes its money from advertising.

It is not as if there isn't enough to do in advertising. Despite Google's success in making search advertising more useful and helpful, most other advertising remains awful.

Fixing advertising not only would be lucrative, but also it directly fits into Google's mission to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." At their best, ads provide useful information about interesting products and services. Right now, most contextual and display advertisements are more annoying than useful. It doesn't have to be that way.

If Google could be the solution to annoying advertising, it could reap all the rewards. Instead, Google is being led off by its generals to fight the last war.


Sherif Mansour said...

Interesting comment. I can kind of see how it fits into their mission. So their mission is to organise the worlds information.

Part of the gap that makes that mission achievable is the client/server communication pitfall.

Google are simply investing in trying to do that in order to make the information more accessible and seamless.

You can use the same notion for Google Chrome - why? Well to cut a long story short - existing browsers arent moving at a pace Google wants to them to move in order to bridge that gap. So what do they do? Create Chrome - and opensource it.

The same thing can be said with Google Android. They are simply investing in the 'bride' to make this infomration accessible.

vicaya said...

Well, all they're trying to do is lowering the friction to the cloud, where they reign supreme for the foreseeable future.

Steve said...

Greg, two comments: first, the fact that it's hard to describe what Google is is a good thing. It means there's somebody who's actually providing innovation rather than "me too".

Second, I wouldn't say Google is an advertising company as much as they are an advertising platform company. The more they can get their tentacles into the clients we use, the more control they'll have over the advertising we see. This is good for them, and good for everybody else (as long as their platforms still provide innovation and value).

The Pageman said...

My educated guess is that the Google thin client (Google OS) is ALL ABOUT SEARCH - Microsoft just happened to have an OS that was in the way.

jeremy said...

first, the fact that it's hard to describe what Google is is a good thing. It means there's somebody who's actually providing innovation rather than "me too".

Steve, I disagree. Right now, Google is doing a lot of "me too" stuff. They're building operating systems, phones, etc. All this stuff that everyone else is doing.

Google should be inventing new ways to organize the world's information. I'm still waiting for their music retrieval system, for example. Instead, they're building browsers and OSes. Not a good sign.

Robert Pogson said...

To understand what Google is doing one needs to understand what M$ is doing. M$ for ten years or more has done everything it can to make it and its products the centre of attention in IT. They bought out competition. They absorbed and destroyed competition. They added every feature under the sun to assure they locked in everyone and controlled access to IT at all levels. Google did a good job by thriving in a niche that became a canyon where M$ was not interested. Now that Google has succeeded in their niche/canyon, M$ finds it interesting, something to be absorbed and controlled. The best defence by Google of M$'s attack is a stiff counter-attack in the OS region. Google's brand is so important, consumers, OEMs, and peripheral manufacturers cannot ignore Google's OS as they did GNU/Linux. With every billion of web ads M$ takes from Google, Google can take billions of OS/application share from M$. This is the essence of competition. Google is too big for M$ to buy out or bully but Google cannot stand by while M$ whittles away on what Google has achieved.

The dig against thin clients is rather weak. Thin clients are growing in use widely as networks, networking and servers are mature, trusted and reliable. Many of us use thin clients or at least file sharing and depend on the server and its services. The huge savings in cost and increases in performance available from running software on servers is well worth possible outages. Thick clients with no server fail much more often than thin clients with a solid server on a LAN. The same is true on the web.

Greg Linden said...

To be clear, the point I was trying to make isn't whether thin clients are going to succeed, it was whether Google should be involved in developing them. As I said, it seems like a big distraction for what is an advertising company.

If you want to get into a discussion of whether thin clients, build by any company, not just Google, will succeed despite failing in the past, we could, but that was not the point of this post. But, if you wanted to start that discussion, it probably would be good to start by citing hard data on the "huge cost savings" of thin clients and explain why, if those huge cost savings exist, why every attempt at thin clients in the past has failed to penetrate the mainstream.

My personal view is that most people will continue to have multiple computers for multiple purposes (mobile, entertainment, work), that these computers mostly will remain thick clients (because the marginal cost of having local storage and computation is so small), and that syncing these devices will be a feature not the core product (because the usage and data on each of mobile, entertainment, and work will be different).

So, I think some are overestimating the likelihood of everything moving to thin clients accessing the cloud in the next 10-30 years. But, I would enjoy discussing this more if you think I am wrong.