Is Google’s OS the end of the OS – the long-predicted moment when Google and the web take over the PC? Or is it merely the disruptive OS throwing marbles on the floor for Microsoft (MSFT) and to some extent Apple (AAPL) and the software industry? Or will it be a platform and boon for app developers and PC makers and cloud companies? Or all of the above? Yes.
One may try to parse the motives and implications of the move like Latin haiku, but I think it’s simple; it usually is with Google: It saw an opportunity to serve the end user and took it. The more such opportunities it grabs, the more benefit it brings to more people, the more money it makes. Maps, Docs, Reader, Android, book search, translation tools, GoogleNews are all that. Some attempts don’t stick to the wall; some frontiers remain (it has not won in the social web, the live web, the deep web, and the local web); some things Google has to buy; some still don’t have a clear business model. All have competitors; none is a monopoly, though search and advertising appear that way to some.
How does Google win? Its products are generally, but not always, better and cheaper (read: free) because Google’s real secret is that it understands the economics of the internet. It competed aggressively not against technology and internet companies but instead for advertisers, selling performance over scarcity. The more Google serves end users – and the more it learns about them – the more opportunities it has. These are the economics of free.
I know the question of whether Google is too big will be raised when I appear on Brian Lehrer’s show today (at 11am ET) with Siva Vaidhyanathan. That’s the question Lehrer asked Eric Schmidt at the Aspen Ideas Festival:
“You’ll be surprised that my answer is no,” Schmidt responded. “Would you prefer the government running innovative companies?” No surprise that I agree with Schmidt. Lehrer’s point is that banks needed regulation and that information is becoming as important as money (well, he didn’t go that far). But I say government did regulate banks and AIG and did a horrid job of it. And look at the storm to regulate and break up Microsoft, which is no longer a threat but suddenly a victim. Heh. For that matter, look at what the market did to the oligopoly of Detroit and what Detroit did to itself. Clear Channel, Tribune Company, McClatchy (MNI) – those are examples in media alone. Big has a way of tumbling of its own weight.
In any case, who’s to say what’s too big? We have a cultural problem of admiring big and then hating big; we want you to grow and then we want to cut you down to size. But this notion of being too big is arbitrary, ultimately meaningless if externally defined.
In this new economy, it may be that Google isn’t yet big enough, that it hasn’t brought its services and innovation – and goad to others to innovate – to enough corners of the internet. We will benefit from there being another operating system that opens up the applications and services to invention, breaking the Microsoft (and Apple) duopoly. We will end up getting cheaper applications and more choice among them. We will end up being able to use cheaper machines because our stuff will be in the cloud.
Yes, Google still has room to grow and there’s more benefit we have to gain. I’ll go farther: Google isn’t yet big enough.
ALSO: Mashable’s questions about the Chrome OS.
Gigaom’s good analysis of the news:
Today Google went wild and announced its plans to create the Chrome operating system, which it says will be designed to run on netbooks. But it’s really an attempt to keep Google relevant as an advertising powerhouse as consumers begin spending more time playing with web-connected apps than the web itself. It’s the search giant’s reaction to a wholesale change in computing driven by ubiquitous wireless access and mobility. The Chrome OS is another step in allowing Google to create what we’ve called the OS for advertising — an ad platform that extends across all devices and all screens.