Robert X. Cringely – love him or hate him – usually has something interesting to say in his weekly I, Cringely column.
This week’s column talked about how Google may (or may not) bid for the 700Mhz spectrum that’s coming off TVs and onto wireless sometime in 2009.
But that’s not what I’m here to write about.
As part of his column, Cringely wrote the following (emphasis added):
Bill Gates likes to talk about how fragile is Microsoft’s supposed monopoly and how it could disappear in a very short period of time. Well Microsoft is a Pyramid of Giza compared to Google, whose success is dependent on us not changing our favorite search engine.
Hmm…makes a great deal of sense, to a degree. Search – or, rather, posting ads in search – is what pays the bills in a huge way at the GooglePlex.
But here is what I think, and have thought for over three years (I remember that because I mentioned same in a job interview more than three year ago): Google is an Application Company.
This was after the purchase of Blogger, but before Google Docs, Google Calendar, Google maps and so on.
The stuff that gets better every day. For example, I’ve only recently used Google spreadsheets seriously, but very impressed. Excel killer? Not today. Tomorrow????
These tools work so well because Google groks the web better than any other company I know (vast generalization you can easily shoot down, but you get the drift: Google is good). You could say Google gets the web like Microsoft used to understand the desktop (Steve Jobs ran with what Palo Alto and MS did well and did it better). MS, to me, shows its age with Vista, but that’s another rant.
Yet Google keeps giving these apps away. You wouldn’t catch MS doing that (well, except for IE, and that 1) Shows how little MS understood the web, and 2) Look at all the hot water it got them into).
No money to be made in giving stuff away, right?
Here’s where I think Google is headed:
- Keep improving the existing online apps
- Add more: some will live; some will die
- Get to the point where a quorum has used/feels comfortable with the apps
- Build an enterprise control panel for the apps. So you – the admin of a small business – can add/edit/delete apps and USERS of apps. Goodbye Office
- The Gmail sign in for all Google tools is paving the way for this.
- The admin tool will be paid (subscription, probably). It’ll be a low barrier to entry. Make it attractive to small businesses.
- In light of what I’ve seen Google do in the past, the admin tool will be an “all you can eat” model, with various levels (with increasing prices). In other words, if you just need the basic apps and user control, $X per year – NOT per seat. 1 or 1,000 users, same price. But if you need Y, then it’s $2X per year – but, again, for everyone. Keep it simple stoopid – once the infrastructure’s in place, it’s mostly gravy but for (Google) internal bandwidth and storage, which it seems to have pretty much solved already: I was a beta tester of Gmail and I still use it like an FTP server. I just can’t get over the 4-6% storage mark!
- Think of the power of this, and what that admin tool might (ultimately, not at launch) be able to do: Create access rules to areas the “company’s” (stored at Google) files, what apps certain folks could use, and so on. An individual leaves the company? One checkbox forwards all that email to an admin inbox, locks user out of company apps (though user can still use the generic Google apps) and so on. I’m sorry, this is incredibly powerful.
- Imagine the power of backups! Sure, most/many companies have a “share” drive you’re supposed to work off of or back up to periodically, but…. Losing data just became harder.
- With an online app, updates are seamless and update ALL systems at the same time. Wow, what a time saver!
- One component will be a server that does need to be (auto) installed on a user machine – Google already does this with Google desktop, so they have a few 10s of millions of machines as Beta testers. This server will be for offline work, which will auto sync once a network connection (hard line or wireless) is found.
- The options are limitless, because the application does not exist per se, as does MS Word, for example. It’s embedded into the fabric of the web. Wow.
Is this really where Google is headed? I dunno.
It makes sense to me, but what do I know?
All I know is that someone – probably many someones – is heading in this direction. That’s gotta be correct.
Google is in the right place; we’ll have to see if it’s the right time.
UPDATE: (a few minutes later) One large roadblock – real and perceived roadblock to this type of online suite is privacy. We’re putting customer financials on Google’s (or company X’s) servers. Are they going to peek? Are they going to accidentally add this data to the Google general index?? (Yes, this will happen at some point…) Legit concerns; issues that should be addressed before launching or adopting a service such as I have laid out above.
UPDATE 8/1/2007 – I don’t mean this to mean this is the only direction Google is headed, but one place they are going. Search/ads still pay the bills, but we must diversify…