Last week at Google I/O 2011, the search giant unleashed itself into almost every nook and cranny of IT, consumer and “enterprise.” This positions them against pretty much every vendor out there, and with their billions in money from advertising, they’re like a wealthy but aloof giant that seems to have unlimited resources, just waiting to emerge from the haze of success.
- App Engine matures, reminds world that it’s a 3 year old PaaS in this age of rising PaaS-mania.
- Android@Home is an ambitious attempt to get Google into every part of your life, in your living room, as it were – and the laundry machine.
- The Chromebook program is a bold attempt to provide desktops as a service and completely displace the classic Microsoft PC model, as well as Apple, of course.
- Google is the epitome of “the consumerization of IT,” by which I don’t mean the easy idea of bringing an
iPadAndroid tablet to work, but returning to a focus on end-users and delivering features at a cadence that matches consumer-think, enterprise desires be damned.
- Current bandwidth limits (and heinous over-charges) hobble most all these efforts.
- Displacing Microsoft Office as the reason to buy the Microsoft platform seems an impossible task.
- A two OS strategy with Android and Chrome creates two dev stacks, creating the classic problem of intra-company fragmentation that every platform company has.
- Google’s notorious, release-early-kill-the-lame approach, along with their aloof nature at developer relations is odd, if just a “new” approach to platform “stability.”
This three year old Platform-as-a-Service seems to have finally graduated, with a swath of new features and pricing updates. As they say, “App Engine now hostsmore than 200,000 active apps that serve over 1.5 billion site views daily.”
Awareness of App Engine has always been oddly low, almost providing a counter-example to the rising PaaS mania (which us RedMonk have as much as the vendors who weekly chest thump that part of the burger). Nonetheless, there’s a good stock of figures and customer cases for App Engine: the Royal Wedding (scale) and WebFilings (“enterprise – booga! booga!”), to name two. The platform may not do everything ever developer needs (that’s the well hidden Achilles heal of all PaaSes, by definition), but App Engine seems damn capability.
App Engine still suffers from lack of awareness and short-listing among developers I talk with. For example, when I sent the Royal Wedding case (built by Accenture, of all people!) over to one developer friend, more or less asking, “isn’t this enough?” they replies with “I guess so, but I think I would like to see a long term successful app that has grown strong. And I would like to hear from their developers about their satisfaction with using Google App Engine.”
This is the most interesting of al I/O announcements: much like Ballmer decrying the iPhone as soon-to-be flop, the Cassandras are out in force. Their major beef is thick and juicy, though: you can’t beat Microsoft Office. Indeed, if Google things it can beat the Office lock, they’re setting themselves up for a nasty lyre contest: better to wait for the new Gods to come than to fight the old.
The Office hurdle aside, it’s a wonderful idea: client PCs and networking as a service, a subscription to a laptop. Cost it out though:
$350-500 up-front for the hardware, than $20-28 a month with a three year commitment, plus a little more for 3G, plus $50/year for Google apps and whatever SaaS subscriptions you need. The range comes out to $1,119 to $1,737 see the correct pricing below in the comments…which ain’t too bad compared to theories on the rate for “traditional desktops.” (See pricing details over at Engadget.)
We all intuitively know that the issue is a cultural one: people wanting, mostly, Microsoft client software. The rest of the issue is building up the applications, both as SaaS delivered to the Chrome browser and Chrome plugins, if those are allowed. Developers are being given a massive incentive to be in the Chrome store: Google only does a 5% take on revenue. Compare that to Apple’s 30%. This app market place thing is always a chicken and egg problem: Google has to build a large enough mob of users waving dollars around to get developers to write to the Chrome platform. Google, however, has the cash to subsidize that: I’m pretty sure Rovio isn’t just making Angry Birds free in the Chrome store, as it is now, surely Google is paying them. Every other app store has this challenge – WP7, etc. -, going against Apple, and subsiding early developers seems the only route.
The demo-glow aside, I predict there’ll be a massive expectations mis-match when the Chromebooks come out in June (I’ll be getting one as an attendee, so we’ll see). Users are learning, thought, from the iPad and Facebook: it turns out you can get by with less from your computer, and you might even like it. Still, the Google Apps problem encountered in the City of LA case is illustrative. The thing there, thought, was just a need for training and realizing that Google Apps wasn’t a drop-in, 1:1 replacement for GroupWare. And nor should it be: the tools an information worker – any worker that uses IT, really – uses are changing, and they should.
The other issue is Google’s constant, self-inflicted bugbear: they’re aloof when it comes to customer service and long-term product management. As a corporation Google is still close to zero when it comes to building up that credibility: we’re a long way from “no one ever got fired boy buying Google.” (Though, maybe “using a free service from Google” is more appropriate). What people need to realize – and use for their risk/benefit procurement decisions – is how much that “genuflecting in front of your customers,” as IBM’s Steve Mills recently put it, costs in the end. A hell of lot more than $28/month.
If you think an iPad would work for you, the Chromebook looks viable. As ever, in these anti-cross platform times, the question is just getting the apps you want. And that’s all about developers, which Google is oddly good at, for now.
Aloof Developer Relations
In the grand scheme of Google, it’s good to explore the side about Google Aloofness mentioned above a little. Google doesn’t seem to have a unified developer relations playbook, strategy, or policy. Some teams are on it just fine, e.g., Android from what I can tell. Others are painful to see in action. Google is very friendly, across the board with developers and enjoys a good reputation (which should make you wonder, “why all the fuss here?”). There’s raw access to Google developers at I/O and elsewhere Googlers show up. But you don’t get the sense that there’s a policy for any of this: projects come and go (RIP Gears), external developers are left o sort out release trains, and what services and APIs are reliable enough to depend on at any given point in time.
One example from I/O typifies this. During one of the “fireside” sessions (come meet the developers and ask them questions), an attendee asked, “do you guys hang out in the IRC channel?” The Googlers at the front of the room had that painful silence only developers can muster up when they’re waiting for someone else to answer, they looked at each other murmured. Finally: “I think there’s one guy, who’s not here, who does… it’s probably a good idea.”
Most of these projects and services are all open source, or at least free, and you certainly get what you pay for. But upping the community management to at least hanging out – if not also being moderately responsive! – in the IRC channel seems like table stakes, esp. for “free as in the other part of the business makes billions each quarter.”
Frameworks like GWT have achieved phenomenal success despite this aloofness, but I don’t think other Google projects and services will be so successful until they become “products.” “Elite developers” are better positioned to put up with this kind of thing from the open source world, but the developer world as whole likes to know things like “Gears won’t suddenly be dropped with no clear plan for a replacement.” Google seems to be learning, though. I asked a question along these lines of some App Engine users: the Web Fillings folks said that it has been a challenge (I think he used a euphemism like “fun”), but that it works now. Indeed, as mentioned above, the App Engine team seems to be matured in these respects.
The Galaxy tab 1.0 – tablet vicissitude?
Finally, a short note on one of the items attendees received, a Samsung Galaxy tab 10.1. So far, I really like this device. I’ve been using it in place of my iPad (mostly for Kindle reading, calendar, etc.). The chronic, iPad competitor position exists, of course: it lacks some apps I’d like (OmniFocus, which I wager will never bust out of the Apple world), and can be a tad buggy at times (web pages have refused to scroll on two occasions and the clock is stuck in GMT, seriously). Overall, though, it seems better than the iPad. The hardware is excellent, it’s fast, and Android is only a little “weird lookin’.”
Trifling ticks aside – and ironed out – if Android continues on this path, iOS will finally have some serious competition. (We chat about it more on my non-RedMonk, highly unprofessional podcast DrunkAndRetired.com.)
A Tweet from James this morning reminded me of something I left out: Google, like so many people, is using major parts of the Sun playbook. I have no idea if they know it or not, but so many of the strategies and “skate where the hockey puck will be” ideas are shockingly similar to the last days of Sun. In its last days (and before, actually), Sun was all over the idea of the Internet of Things and “ubiquitous computing,” cloud and advanced data-center design (using Siberian data-centers for better cooling was a frequent talking point), and they were even starting to get all consumer and end-user oriented with JavaFX and Java on TVs (!).
This pattern of using the Sun playbook comes up time and time again now-a-days, not just with Google: lots of IBM vision-ware is very Sun-like. After the first day of I/O I rhetorically asked Stephen O’Grady why it’d work this time, for Google. He took his time, but came up with a good answer the next day: Sun was always focused on the enterprise, Google is focused on the consumer. It’s a subtle shift, but it might just work this time.
Disclosure: Google is not a client, but see the RedMonk client list for related folks.