Today I’ve heard a lot of folks sounding the battle cry long and loud today about Google’s announcement to enter the Operating System (OS) space. Still there are others that are flat out ridiculing and twittermongering the idea of a Google OS. What’s interesting to me is that there’s such a focus on this being a standoff between Google and M$. I suppose that the two companies are “rivals” in a sense, but in a much broader sense, they’re not even competing on the same field.
Let’s use an example. Imagine that you take a the best rugby player ever and compare him to the best football (American Football) player ever. Who comes out on top? Can you even make a valid comparison. After all the sports are similar to one another, right? Well, they are similar, but there are some differences that would make it hard to compare them as apples to apples.
To begin with, Google doesn’t really come to compete on the same field with M$, which is one of the big reasons Google has had so much success. In so many of their ventures, they haven’t claimed to offer the same thing as M$ and competed for market share. Instead they have come directly to the consumers, using the vast resource of our collective search history (yes they record what you search for), consumer patterns as they interact observe them interact with other sites (yep, they record that too), and even the ability to see every brand new site, virtually before anyone else in the world sees it. Just imagine what types of trends you could extrapolate from that data with a group of talented, well fed PhDs (after all the degree is important, right ;-)).
After looking at the data, they come up with something that really addresses a need. This is quite in contrast to the old school approach that M$ takes where they whole up their brightest programmers to develop what they “think” everyone will want and then spring it on them in a flashy and unsuspecting way (no, beta testers can never replace the type of research that Google does). Just look at M$’s last OS launch.
To understand my perspective you really need to read My Life in Advertising and Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. Why? That text is considered by some to be the Bible of modern advertising, and with good reason. He explains that selling isn’t about what you want to sell, it’s about what “they” want to buy. First know your audience and then sell them what they want. And nowhere is this more alive in our day than in the framework of Google Adwords, but I digress.
So I was mentioning how everyone is up in arms about how Google will never succeed at creating an OS, that those are in development for 10 years and on and on. Well, Google doesn’t want to replace M$. They don’t want to create an OS that will run photoshop, or do video editing or any number of other “traditional” desktop software applications. What they want to do is give people that spend a majority of their time on the internet (raise your hand if you fit into that category) a fast, reliable and easy to use option when it comes to their OS. That’s a lot different goal than M$ and should be a good indicator that they aren’t even squaring off on the same field.
So, about the “10 years to a stable OS” bit. Have you ever heard of Linux? It’s been around for years and years. It is a major backbone among internet connected servers. There is vast support for hardware on Linux with a growing number of companies creating Linux drivers for their hardware before they ship the first item. While it is true that linux hasn’t succeeded in tearing away a large consumer chunk from M$, that isn’t true for similar OSes. Take a look at BSD Unix. Back when Berkeley released the source code to their Unix operating system, a number of projects started up. One that eventually took hold was a commercial variant known today as MacOSX. That’s right, MacOSX comes from the open source BSD Unix. Does anyone want to argue that MacOSX is hard to use and understand?
So, now we have Google coming along and suggesting that they want to take an already stable OS (Linux in this case), follow the clues it’s getting from that vast ocean of data (user search and behavior results), and leverage the huge pool of talent that it has to make it easy to use. Their approach makes for a much lower capitol investment that either M$ or Apple for the same outcome and their leverage as quite possibly the largest internet presence allows them to get deals with Dell and HP (etc.) to ship hardware with it preinstalled before they even officially begin development. The resulting operatings system will have the same resistance to viruses that MacOSX boasts and will be much lighter weight than Windows (I’m sure I need a TM here, or something like that). It’s a much better match than Windows 7 for a hardware constrained device (such as a netbook).
In a lot of ways, they probably don’t even care if you run Firefox and a competing online office platform.
I suppose the last question to ask is what it will take to make this a success story for Google. Do they need to take a lot of market share in order to turn a profit? The answer is probably not as much as you think. If they succeed in broadening the use of their existing services (Gmail, Apps, Search, etc.) then they have increased the base of an already proven profit center. They don’t plan to sell their OS, which once again puts them on a different field that M$ and increases their leverage and the appearance of being a generous and altruistic entity.
Forget about Google taking on Microsoft, no matter how glamorous that may sound. I think that Google is playing a much better game. They’re going straight to the end user and letting them develop the product they want. They are following a classic Hopkins approach. Get something out there fast, whether it’s the right thing or not. Then, listen VERY carefully to what everyone says about it. The more responsive they are along the way, the more people will tell them what they want. The more those people get what they want, the more they’ll evangelize the product and the company, and bring on new adopters. By the third generation Google will have something that meets real needs and matches the conversation in the head of their target consumer, all without taking a single cue from old money bags (M$).
I can see why someone like me would end up with a netbook running Google Chrome OS and a desktop running Windows. Kudos Google for filling the world with solutions to needs rather than their own dark room stale and sterile ideas of what we “should” want.