There was an interesting article by Tom Krazit on Webware today. In it, he directly addresses the CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, and calls for Schmidt to step down from his seat on the Board of Directors at Apple. While some in the comments became hung up on the delivery of the message, found an opportunity to take a shot a Microsoft, or talked about the Google conspiracy of stealing all of your secrets, I read more into the meat of the article.
The quick background as to why Krazit wrote his article is because Google announced today that they will be releasing a new product called “Google Chrome OS” next year. The OS, or Operating System, is the “root” of what runs your computer’s software, modern mobile phone, GPS and just about anything else. In the PC world, there are several, most notable are Microsoft Windows, Apple OSX and many flavors of Linux. Google already had a web browser, released last year, called Chrome. The big deal here is Chrome OS is it’s own operating system that sits on a Linux kernel. The main focus will be accessing the web, and that’s it. Because it cuts out the idea of native applications (apps that are installed locally and thus take up system resources), this OS can be stripped down to the bare minimum, and be extremely fast and versatile. Anything that it runs will be web-based, which means anything that you can access now online will run on it. Google explained further that it will be available, initially, on netbook computers starting in the latter half of 2010, a year from now. You have to start some place, right? Oh wait, they already did! Google acquired the mobile phone software company, Android, back in 2005, and created (along with the Open Handset Alliance), the Android mobile phone operating system, which was installed on mobile phones starting last year. People who use it like the phones, although the hardware itself gets more of the negative press.
We’re in a world of technological change, and that change is happening faster than anything we have ever seen before. It’s not only because of the big companies and their big software. A lot of the driving force now is from the small developers. Apple opened the iPhone/Touch App Store to any developer, and allowing those developers to set the prices. At last press release in June, Apple stated there were over 50,000 apps in their Apps Store. Research In Motion, the manufacturer of the Blackberry phones, created their own App World with the same concept back in April, and already has over 2000 applications. The Android Market boasts the same for Android users.
Another aspect of this drive is something called “open source”. Basically what it means is the code is free to the public to alter, update, fix and enhance, collaboratively. This has been around for a long time, and is what the Linux OS and it’s many flavors is based on. There have been many open source applications available for essentially all platforms, and most of that software is free. Because it’s run by the community, the support is usually excellent and fast, if you know where to look. Never is the support for an open source program outsourced to someone not speaking your language who has no knowledge of what you’re talking about, and is simply running through a prepared script. Well Google stated that Chrome OS will be released to open source later this year. The myriad of “new eyes” will optimize the code, make it more secure, and concentrate on web coding standards that the likes of Internet Explorer abandoned and manipulated for their own purpose in years past.
Innovation will be the end result of all of this. Innovation driven by independent coders. They will continue to see the opportunity to build a business for themselves, take part in something they love doing, or take pride in making something better for others. Innovation driven by competition. Microsoft, the behemoth, has been slapped around in the browser wars lately because faster, less bloated, and more standards-compliant browsers have been released by Mozilla (Firefox), Apple (Safari), Google (Chrome) and Opera. It has forced Microsoft to go back and do things differently. Internet Explorer 8, released in March, is faster and more standards-compliant than it has been in a very long time. (Still not good enough for me to go back to, but that’s a digression.) That’s good. Apple and Linux OS releases have also hurt Microsoft’s Windows foothold and gained ground in the install base. No small feat considering the market share Windows has enjoyed. Granted it’s partly because of Apple’s rebirth, Linux becoming more mainstream-friendly, and in no small part Vista’s horrendous launch and subsequent 2-1/2 year marketing damage control efforts. We’re hearing from many locations that the new version, Windows 7, is better than all previous releases. That’s good.
If they push each other, if the coders push on each other, and consumers push via our money… we win, as innovation happens.
Getting back to Mr. Krazit’s call for Schmidt to step down from Apple’s board, I agree. Government regulators have come down ridiculously hard on Microsoft regarding their anti-trust practices. Was Microsoft practicing hard-handed anti-trust? Of course they were. But some regulators have taken it far enough to stifle some of Microsoft’s innovation, and in some areas it seems Microsoft is playing catch-up. Regulators have started paying more attention to Google because of their increasing size and scope. If the CEO of Google, who is now in the business of application development as well as operating system development, is also on a Apple’s Board, who also develops applications and operating systems, these regulators will pay even more attention. More attention may lead to government intervention, anti-trust issues, extensive costs, and less innovation.
I use products from Microsoft, Linux, Apple and Google every day. I do love them, but I want them to be better. I’m selfish. I want innovation.