The Google OS is Already Here

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Untill recently, i've been a little undecided on the whole "Google OS" meme that's been buzzing around for some months. A couple of recent posts though, have given me chance to rethink the concept.

If you throw away the idea of an OS like Win or Linux, and think in terms of a "layer" that sits on top of your OS, the worlds biggest Search engine is already deep within many users systems, and one of (though not the main, i suspect) the goals of such a strategy is surely a move away from purely link based algorithms.

Take a look at Robert Young's guest post on Om Maliks blog: Google, the Ultimate Deflator - He argues that Google are using the internet to make Microsoft obsolete:

Google has introduced services that clearly indicate their desire to build a comprehensive “platform,” one that challenges Microsoft’s dominance in this area head on (Gmail, Desktop Search, now GD2, and Google Talk). So what is Google’s master plan? I believe they are once again going counterintuitive, but in a manner that hits Microsoft where it hurts most. Google will make Microsoft’s entire strategic plan and mission, which revolves around the continued proliferation and dominance of the desktop PC operating system, obsolete by making Google itself the operating system. The model they are pursuing is very similar to Sun Microsystems’ (Jonathan Schwartz’s) vision of turning computing into a utility, like electricity. The only difference is that Google is already almost there.

There's a great deal more to the post, and it's well worth a read

Next, take a look at Kotkke's post on the general subject of Web OS

So this is my best guess as to how an "operating system" based on the Web (which I will refer to as "WebOS") will work. There are three main parts to the system:

  • The Web browser (along with other browser-ish applications like Konfabulator) becomes the primary application interface through which the user views content, performs services, and manages data on their local machine and on the Web, often without even knowing the difference. Something like Firefox, Safari, or IE...ideally browser agnostic.
  • Web applications of the sort we're all familiar with: Gmail, Flickr, and Bloglines, as well as other applications that are making the Web an ever richer environment for getting stuff done. (And ideally all Ajaxed up to provide an experience closer to that of traditional desktop apps.)
  • A local Web server to handle the data delivery and content display from the local machine to the browser. This local server will likely be highly optimized for its task, but would be capable of running locally installed Web applications (e.g. a local copy of Gmail and all its associated data).

Still not convinced? Then get a load of Phil Windley on GTalk as an Identity Strategy - Like most people, i was far too myopic to realize that the rather dull release of Google Talk was anything more than just another "me too" play.

Phil makes a compelling point of what may really be behind the IM app:

Clearly, Google is positioning itself as an Internet operating system capable of displacing Microsoft as the integration point (to use a Clayton Christensen term).

To do that, Google needs an identity strategy. My guess is they've got one, although they haven't come right out and said that. GMail created unique user IDs on the Google network, which GTalk leverages. I've started calling them GIDs. The GTalk announcement extends that and strengthens it

He goes on to quote Jupiter's David Card who talks about a "presense mechanism" being provided by GTalk

What's critical about IM isn't real-time text messaging but the Buddy List as a communications/presence management hub.(Link is ancient history for geek/vision cred.) You manage your buddies and buddy groups and their relationships to you (and each other), shifting those according to what persona you're inhabiting (work, home, fun, shopping, etc.) and what communications are available to you or you want to make available to them. Then broadcast that selectively. The company that can teach consumers how to do this, and own that management tool is in a very powerful position.

He concludes by pointing out the sometimes overlooked, obvious fact that Google is a business

Its nice to think of Google as a bunch of smart people just having a good time and seeing what fun toys they can build, but that misses the fact that they're also a multi-billion dollar company that has to fulfill a lot of investor expectation or die. Doing so requires a strategy and Google's strategy is based on becoming the Internet OS and integrating commodity components (i.e. Linux, OS X, and Windows). Google can't build an integration point without an identity strategy and their identity strategy has to include synchronous messaging and presence

I think in this case, it's time to put aside the tin foil hats, those arguments are just too persuasive, and make a lot of sense (at least to me).


WebOS is just another word for

nothing left to lose. It should serve to suck a few more pis out of the investing public.

Handwriting on the Wall

I think it's pretty clear they are moving in that direction, even though they aren't discussing it publicly. There's also no doubt having direct access to users actions could dramatically improve algo's (although there is a catch-22 nature to that logic). Of course this does present the probelm of needing an "always on" internet connection. Dependability and scalability also become serious concerns. When blogger was feeling growing pains earlier this year I have no doubt they alienated a lot of people by losing thier posts (I lost a few myself). Google could really go a long way toward increasing acceptance by offering free or low cost "dumb terminals" to people. They could get a ton of positive press, and tax deductions, by donating them by the truckload to schools.

It really wouldn't surprise

It really wouldn't surprise me if it goes that way. We lsot our internet connection at work for an afternoon last week, a problem with our ISP. I kept going to do things, and realising I couldn't, because we had no internet. I use the Internet for so much stuff, I have to check myself when away from the computer, because I can't look stuff up so easily.

We're also just implimenting a new CRM system that is web based. It's installed on the companies server and runs on IIS and is accessed via a web page. In this case, that is actually a bonus. The entire client install is a couple of ActiveX controls (which narks me a bit, it stills means reliance on IE), with about 2 minutes tutorial I could show you how to get access to it from any machine with an Internet connection (and IE) in the world. And it's going to be a major part of the companies business processes as time goes on.

The idea of ending up with dumb terminals with not much beyond a browser installed on them is certainly one possibility for the future. A bit useless to schools at the moment though, there's too much other software they need for teaching that won't run that way. Though evern there, there are appearing more and more web based eductional 'software' titles.

I can see it becoming more pervasive when always on, BB connections are the norm, and people's TV's are their computers (I see computers taking on the TV role, not TV's gaining the ability to do computer/internet things so much).

The scalability issue is then a major problem, as graywolf mentions. A college I attended for a couple of years had a split system. One part was the kind of network we think of today, a few servers and relatively powerful client machines with the various software installed. Then another part of the network was thin-client, dumb terminals accessing pretty much everything off the servers. But it needed MANY more servers to run that part of the system, the resources of the network were tested much more, and the issues of failure of a single server was more costly in cases.

My boss is amused by the way things seem to be going. The company iwork for now had a kind of thin-client setup about 15 years or so ago. Now it's a couple of servers and more powerful clients, but looks like in the coming years it could be heading back to the thin-client idea again....

Got to be careful with this stuff

There is definately a bit of an echo chamber effect going on here. PLENTY of people get by in their work lives using computers all work day every day and never even think of google let alone use it. Google has nothing that locks in a user in any comprehensive way other than *maybe* Gmail (but if your email was that critical would you be using a freebie email account?)

Talk about commodity components, Google is a me-too company. They are going for small incremental improvements. Another search engine, another free email service, another mapping service, now another chat .. ho-hum.

Someone is going to do what this post describes, but it doesn't have to be Google yet. If Gmail did IMAP and Google owned flickr that would have tied me in a heck of a lot more, throw in an online office suite and you would probably have me by the balls. I think Yahoo! is actually as well placed and I can't believe Microsoft haven't already got it sewn up. (Let's face it Google are building their own version of passport).

What a load of crap

The people throwing the expression "operating system" around in these articles/whatever don't understand what it refers to.

Google is hardly positioning itself to unload an operating system on anything.

What they are building is an application suite.

picky, picky

when google offers you its really cheap processor cycles for free and acts as your hard drive as well, and offers the kind of services and flexibility (Google Maps) that are aiding the development of a number of useful apps and services, they are taking on some of the responsibilities of an OS.

personally i think they are going to give us an OS for mobile devices before too very long...

Application suites are not operating systems

when google offers you its really cheap processor cycles for free and acts as your hard drive as well, and offers the kind of services and flexibility (Google Maps) that are aiding the development of a number of useful apps and services, they are taking on some of the responsibilities of an OS.

No, they're just offering you resources. An operating system has to run your computer for you. They aren't doing that and it isn't on the radar screen.

Like I said, this is a misuse of the expression "operating system". All Google has done (is doing) is offer an application suite to people.

When Google offers software for people to download that replaces their current operating system (gets them off Windows and/or MaxOS and/or Linux), THEN they'll be offering an operating system.

At the rate they've been

At the rate they've been snapping up mobile talent, that does seem likely doesn't it cchance?


What are they doing that the others are not (or have not already done)? Why is Google getting singled out for this praise and pant-wetted excitement? Because they are the darling of the internet and possible saviours from the "evil" Microsoft.

Where does Google "acts as your hard drive as well"? Not officially they don't as far as I can see.

I see more hopeful optimism rather than actual reality here :O)


won't be using your back button on windoze anytime soon.

It is just portal stuff google is doing, AOL has a better "OS". These conversations would be best served up with a side of mushrooms.

If you throw away the idea of an OS like Win or Linux,

uh huh, lets throw away the idea that birds have wings too, that would be a chat.

Perhaps the word "analogy"

Perhaps the word "analogy" may be more applicable in the Google OS commentaries. :)

check your perspective

When you "realize" how much you need the internet, be careful of bias. If the internet tool is convenient for you, you will use it more partly because you will NO LONGER CONSIDER the alternatives. Eventually you will lose your off-line skillz, and so then you seem to be more dependent. Partly it's just a matter of persepctive.

I have a local yellow pages book that is "award-winning" and I never even looked at it because I had the Internet and I knew how the old YPs worked. Due to other ISP-related issues, I started working offline again and this thing is damn useful. Once I knew how it worked and what features it had, I became very efficient with it. Had I stuck with my internet, I never would known nor sharpened the offline skillset.

I do believe G uses this to their advantage as the G-people are somewhat blind to downsides or other available choices, much like the Apple people can be blind to non-Apple alternatives or Apple problems.

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