Jul 9, 2009

[Google] No More Beta and the OS Announcement

It's the middle of the week and already Google has rocked the tech sphere once more with two rather significant announcements. It seems to be par for the course for them - why make only one revelation in a week when you can assault the world with several across the span of a few days. Seriously, at times it feels like a military engagement.

While some might argue that pretty much anything that Google says or does tends to be perceived to be significant or perhaps somehow "game-changing", I think that this week's press releases are of a different degree entirely.

Tuesday in the US, Google announced that Google Apps is finally out of beta. Now this may not seem to be significant news since it doesn't translate into anything radically new in terms of the affected services - Gmail, Docs, Calendar and Google Talk. However the reason for the change relates more to how business truly perceive the "beta" tag for what it originally stood for - a piece of software still in development and being tested with a limited audience.

Google's definition of the "beta" tag had more to do with the desire to continually innovate and improve these applications in order to make them better over time, never settling for a "finished" product or thinking that they had successfully done their jobs. It was a nice sort of idealistic notion, but not one Google consistently followed. The best example would definitely have to be how soon Google Chrome was announced to be out of beta (even though there's always a "beta" version of the browser with the latest tweaks and improvements.

We all know what this really means - a serious push to promote Google Apps as a business solution for small and medium companies. Naturally business are more familiar with what "beta" is supposed to represent and probably the Google Apps sales teams have had trouble convincing larger clients to adopt the application suite given it's supposedly still in the testing phase. To the average user, this probably won't mean much.

Today (as previously predicted numerous times), Google announced the eventual release of Google Chrome OS in mid-2010. People had been speculating about a Google-created operating system for ages now, especially given all the development work they've done in terms of Linux solutions for their data centers and even Android for mobile phones. What exactly Google hopes to achieve with this release is pretty tricky to figure out.

When trying to understand Google's motivation for doing anything, we always go back to their mission - to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. A lot of their free solutions are geared towards making information truly more accessible, may it be hidden emails from years ago, photos you need across various websites, driving directions to the nearest supermarket or obscure files on your hard drive.

An OS has always been considered to be well within this plan since it gives Google access to everything on a person's computer outside of the scope of Google Desktop Search. When people first saw Google Chrome, it already seemed like just few steps away from a full OS. As a browser, it was designed to work well with Google's cloud computing philosophy and benefited the more online user of today. Based on the initial blog report, it seems they're trying to position their new OS the same way, still using the Google Chrome brand.

It's primarily being positioned as an alternative netbook OS, competing in the same area as other Linux flavors and the various iterations of Windows (not counting Vista, seriously). It'll be open source, which is always a good thing since there's pretty much a whole world willing to slave themselves for the betterment of Google for free.

Like Chrome, they're claiming to want to rethink the OS from the ground up with the philosophy that it needs to be an OS truly designed to help the user get connected to the internet a fast as possible. It's a bold idea, but one that traditional OS makers may not appreciate since it's trying to encourage the user to bypass desktop software entirely in order to focus more on online solutions. Given the number of software developers well nested in the traditional OS environment, a radial shift like this may or may not affect their business negatively. It's too early to tell at this point.

For now, all we know is that Google is stepping up its game as it always does but making sure that the bulk of their applications remains free. It'll be interesting to see how this develops over time and how US anti-trust investigators will interpret this continued branching out into new areas given the lack of a clear revenue model.


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