Jul 082009

gmail-out-of-beta2Google made two related announcements yesterday.

In the morning they announced that all the Google Apps, in beta for as long as the past five years, are now out of beta.  Curiously, the announcement doesn’t really say the apps have changed, just that the beta tag was scaring off the corporate types so they decided to, you know, remove it.  Poof, now it’s enterprise-ready!

To be fair, what they are saying is that these apps have been enterprise-ready for quite a while (at least the for-pay versions) and now it’s time to acknowledge that.

Then, in the evening they dropped the bomb.  Google’s web browser Chrome is being extended to become Google Chrome OS.  Basically they are going to add a linux kernel and networking environment to the product so that Chrome can run on ‘bare metal’, without an OS (other than it’s bad little self).

This OS/Browser combination is not designed to run applications locally (although it could).  The idea is the same old ‘network computer’ concept that Sun and Oracle have been pitching since the early 90’s, and we see where that has got them.  Huddled together in a devalued corner of the IT market trying to survive.  Sun and Oracle didn’t get traction on network computers largely because of poor performance and vendor lock-in issues.  Companies don’t like to put all of their technology eggs in one basket, and that’s what Sun and Oracle were pitching.  They were pitching trust, and they weren’t convincing.

What’s different about Google’s attempt?  For one Google has already proven the performance and usefulness of their network software.  Google Apps is a known thing.  What isn’t known is how reliable Google will be over the long term in protecting user data, from both a disaster recovery and security standpoint. The trust thing.

Something else that keeps people away from network computing is the need to be connected to the network to compute.  We are far away from being able to  rely on having internet connectivity wherever we are.  So people really need a way to work in their files when they are not connected to the network.  That means providing local storage and application execution, seamlessly tied back to the network, which Google can provide within Chrome OS.  The degree to which this works is probably the most decisive factor in the success or failure of Google’s latest world domination plot.

Personally I think the iPhone has already superbly demonstrated the effectiveness of a mixed local-execution / network computing environment.  If Google can skew Chrome OS a little more towards the iPhone (not to mention their own Android) in ability to run native apps, I think they will have a winner.

Now what is Microsoft going to do about this? And how much do we trust Google to be our computing environment?

Things are getting interesting!