Chrome, Android, and The Cloud

A journalist friend of mine once said about Google "they are a freak of a company, the best advertising business ever built is funding the largest collection of mad scientists ever assembled". I love that description of Google and have used it many times. But it suggests that Google is chaos and I don’t think that is true at all.

Google is building a collection of web apps, like gmail, gcal, and google docs, that businesses are increasingly relying on. My personal goal this year is to get our firm completely off of the office suite and into the google suite. As builders of web apps, Google understands that the infrastructure for the deployment and operation of web apps just isn’t there yet.

And so they are doing something about it in three important places.

1) They are building a modern browser, Chrome, that resembles an operating system as much as a browser. If you haven’t read the Chrome Comic Book, you should do that. It’s not that Google wants to build a better version of Internet Explorer or Firefox. They want to build a better environment for running web apps.

2) They are building a mobile operating system, Android, that is also designed for running web apps in a mobile environment. I think in time, Google’s Android will be to the iPhone what Windows was to the Mac. The iPhone laid out many of the killer mobile device innovations, but its a closed device, a closed carrier relationship, and even a closed application store. Android will take all of those good ideas and put them on every device, with every carrier, and in partnership with every app developer. You’d have thought that Apple would have learned the lesson that you can’t control the entire ecosystem with the Mac, but they did not.

3) Google is all about the cloud. They have developed all of their apps in what goes for the cloud these days. They’ve build a great cloud computing platform in App Engine. And they will certainly support other cloud computing environments that emerge. Google’s DNA (like Intel’s DNA) is about supporting an entire ecosystem. The more web apps that are built, the better Google will do. So they will do anything and everything they can to support the development of a robust cloud computing environment for web apps.

It is on this three legged stool (browser, mobile, cloud) that Google’s future will be built. And sitting here today, it seems like they are well organized and have a great strategy for doing just that.

Full Disclosure: I am long Google.

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Comments (Archived):

  1. csertoglu

    Microsoft had all the opportunity in the world to co-opt this. they fully deserve what’s coming to them. Most remarkable, yet not too surprising, is that Google is open-sourcing a product this central to its strategy. They are watching the edge and now they think they can cooperate with the it. We’ll see if they will be able to do that.

    1. fredwilson

      Google is open sourcing the infrastructure because they can monetize the web apps. Its powerful on the desktop but possibly even more powerful on the mobile device

      1. Soren Macbeth

        I’d be interesting in more details or sources related this point. Does anyone know what share of GOOG’s ad revenue comes from its own web apps vs. others web apps vs. searches vs. blogs?

  2. scottythebody

    Do not forget Gadgets! I would say this can either be part of your Chrome bullet point or the fourth point. This is killer in that it will allow users to take their “cloud” apps offline (think: airplane ride) and resynch the next time they get connected. Here at my work, we are investing serious effort in getting a proprietary version of this working when, in fact, we could have waited for Google!

    1. charlie crystle

      That’s exactly right–the DESKTOP IS PART OF THE CLOUD, part of the ecosystem.

  3. scottythebody

    Grrr! I’m sleepy. I didn’t mean Gadgets, I meant Gears!

    1. fredwilson

      The offline thing is important for sure. It could be the fourth point

    2. naveen

      “gadgets” support could be useful too. the gadgets move out of the webpage and into your browser. i can see perhaps a “wishlist” or “shopping cart”-like application that uses google checkout and works across merchants…gadgets already have some of the ideas that are around ubiquity (firefox): someone else could build and advertise a gadget in google’s directory and you could subscribe to it in your browser.

  4. alexandrosM

    Google finally seems to be getting its focus back, or at least showing the rest of the world what it had in mind.

  5. markjosephson

    I’m a longtime Office addict — couldn’t live without outlook. Am increasingly impressed and comfortable with Google Apps.Our company uses Apps Premier for company mail, calendar and docs, and there are certainly some shortcomings (i.e. lack of accountability and inevitable outages), but incredibly liberating to not have those regular distractions about “issues with the mail server” etc. that always seemed to keep us from actually running the business.

    1. fredwilson

      And what about search that actually works in a productivity suite?

  6. jedc_mercury

    “You’d have thought that Apple would have learned the lesson that you can’t control the entire ecosystem with the Mac, but they did not.”I get the sense from Apple that they just don’t care. Like 37signals, they’re going to do business the way they want to do business. Maybe they’ll eventually open up their systems a bit for a larger market share, but the nature of Apple as a company means they’ll always keep far more control for a unified user experience.It means that there’s a great opportunity for Google here. Just like the Mac, Apple will innovate and get the public used to a new type of product, but someone else will swoop in to take advantage of the full size of the market.

    1. fredwilson

      Good point about apple. I shouldn’t be so critical of them. They do what they so well

  7. pauljacobson

    I’m reserving judgment on this for now. Between Firefox and Safari I am not sure what more I could need from a browser but then Google has this knack for sneaking up on the competition and really changing the game (or not – depends on the project).Google’s web-based apps are really great and they keep getting better but from what I hear about Android, I am going to stick with Nokia. There is a lot of potential in Android but it just seems that the development process is not exactly going all out to develop something really innovative, just more of the same with new hype.

    1. Blacknox

      Memory allocation in Chrome is what has me excited to test it. It is the number one problem with browsing/apps today.

      1. pauljacobson

        What will be different with memory allocation?

        1. fredwilson

          I don’t want to try and explain it (I’ll mess it up). But you read the comic which gets into that

  8. Blacknox

    As much as I love Google Apps, we have had several problems with lost edits, refreshing strangeness in IE and other issues that make us very leery. After getting a few folks to use, we one day spent 5 hours collaboratively editing our business plan and lost a huge chunk of edits. So, hopefully those bugs will get repaired and we can use, but my partners stopped relying on it and went back to MS – Uggh!On data – I trust Google with my data, but becoming more and more concerned these days. Need a system of replication not only locally, but also in a secondary remote location for everything I do on my PC whether it be in Google or locally. We’ve added that concept to our business model, because of the concerns we have had with them.Natural Encryption – Or automatic encryption local and remote needs to become a component of these offerings as well.Having been a pioneer in the Web ASP space back in 1999, I get concerned that this will impact the space (SaaS), but realize now that for full acceptance, multi-site replication of all my data and auto encryption are crucial.

    1. Blacknox

      The amazing thing looking back now is that Netscape could have done this and were planning to do this in some form, but blew it by telling the world they were going to take MS out. That was all Bill needed to slash and burn. He didn’t care about monopoly issues. All he cared about was crushing them before they could because he knew he couldn’t turn his ship fast enough and he did – crush them. Now Google had enough sense to wait until they owned the world to do this and Microsoft is more n their heels, so they can do it, get away with it and win if they do it right. We’ll see.

      1. Ranjit Mathoda

        The amazing thing is how people thought there needed to be an antitrust case against Microsoft for something as obviously necessary as integrating an html rendering engine into an operating system. Happily Google came along and showed once again a new business model is far more effective than a bunch of lawyers.

        1. vruz

          Actually, that’s not accurate.Microsoft wasn’t penalised for integrating html rendering into an operating system.Having a monopoly is not illegal, the illegal thing is abusing monopoly power to destroy the competition.(something Microsoft has consistently done in that, and other industries)That’s what Antitrust law is really about.

          1. James

            So surely Google advertising Chrome for download on their home page is exactly that?

          2. vruz

            Now that’s an interesting question.We should find a new definition for competition in the web browsers market when all of them are for $ 0.I believe competition in the browsers market nowadays is not for for direct commercial gain anymore, but for mindshare and standards compliance, delivering better value to web users, this is probably the most commonly accepted notion among web developers at least. (who should hopefully know better !)If we take that as a premise, we should measure Google by the value they deliver to web users. Keeping them honest with standards compliance seems to be the most important thing to watch in a company with such a dominant and powerful position.Google doesn’t seem to be crushing the web browsers competition, Chrome’s marketshare is exactly 0%, and it’s based on Webkit, which is as standards-compliant as you can get today.That ad on Google’s homepage doesn’t seem to run against Antitrust law.Make no mistake, to me at least, the continued, longstanding and consistent compliance problems in Internet Explorer are a cause of much greater concern.Any day now, Internet Explorer marketshare is somewhere between 70% and 90% depending on the region of the globe you look at.Microsoft has tried (and keeps trying) to sneak cool stuff in the browser (think XAML) in hope the public adopt it, so they can finally dictate the Internet de facto standard.They have miserably failed time and again, but they keep getting smarter all the time.So I agree, we have to keep Google honest, and we must watch every dominant company for the web to stay functional, healthy, plural and diverse.

          3. fredwilson

            The point is that the antitrust case was not really successful. The open source movement and a new disruptive business model (search and ppc ads) was

    2. Nate

      You’ve hit on a key issue. Google will never allow data to be stored encrypted because Google has to be able to read it to data mine/serve relevant ads around it.Maybe Google would launch a paid app suite with encryption that prevented Google from peeking, but I doubt it. Such a thing is just contrary to Google’s entire model.

      1. Blacknox

        Yep, you are absolutely right. Hadn’t considered that, but it makes complete sense.Brad

  9. stone

    Totally agree that this is their strategy and it is the only one to date that has the chance of taking down Microsoft. It may take another 5-10 years for this to happen but this is precisely what is happening and precisely why Microsoft still needs to buy Yahoo.

  10. awilensky

    Someone, somewhere got religion and said, “we gotta get serious about Javascript execution.” Mozilla has improved the bench’s by about 70% already in 3.01, and they are releasing a JIT that will blow that away.Google knows that the execution environment for JS has to be as robust a runtime environment as an exe is to a PC running in ring 0. So, even with the improvements in Firefox’s JIT, Google is taking matters into their own hands to make sure that JS apps of the future are unhindered by any developments other then their own – and this also insulates them from the Flash encroachment.Now, as to the usability of the language as a general development framework, we have sproutcore (immature but sexy), and we have better learning resources, such as better books. I think that JS is the next Ruby, or that new languages that compile for the new class of ‘JIT’s on fire”, will be the NEXT BIG THING,

  11. terra210

    Google…Google…GoogleOh Google….; )

    1. terra210

      No one else is even close. But I don’t want to give one company control over all my data. It’s a different world than when MSFT overtook the world and IBM. AAPL knows who they are; they stay in the creative burst space; nothing wrong with that. Not every company needs to be the king of the land, (or infrastructure). I am sure they know why they do what they do. And, it has worked well. Google was smart with the way they came on the market. It gave them a financial edge to become King with much more ease. They are smarter about business matters. But they seem to forget the human side at times. And their government ties are a little disconcerting.I just had a thought; are they becoming their own country? It is interesting to think how a group of individuals could build assets to control our communication and data infrastructure. Then, amass financial assets, larger than a Kings ransom. In the terms of the pre-industrial world, that would be like establishing a kingdom. If they start using their assets to buy land, well then, we have all we need to claim ownership and name a new country! I am kidding here, but it is an interesting thought how our political landscape might be formed in the future…

    2. senao


  12. Webconomist

    The battlefield now is like electricity in the early 1900’s; Edison et all began to offer hydro as a service. Manufacturers took it up since they no longer needed to run their own hydro plant and would increase their profit. The Cloud is the same thing in IT terms and Google has created the evolution of the desktop. Great post!

  13. andyswan

    What I really admire about Google is that their long-term vision always trumps short-term investor/analyst concerns. Although impossible to prove, and likely a stretch, I believe that their position of not “splitting the stock” says a lot about their mentality and where priorities lie.I don’t know if Chrome will make firefox, safari or IE obsolete….but I agree with Fred that this probably isn’t Google’s goal anyway.It’s a piece to a large puzzle that I think transcends competitive pressures.

  14. mydigitalself

    On Google Docs…Over the weekend I *almost* thought I could get rid of Office. Until I tried to share the docs with other people. I wanted to send them either as .DOCS or .PDFS. Boy was the output shoddy. I ended up having to open them up in Word, change all the margins, delete the nearly completely blank front page and reformat some of the paragraphs. The same was true of the PDFs. As soon as they get WYSIWYG output to PDF, then I’ll migrate.

  15. Julien

    Isn’t that a “common” strategy to reach out the layers that are “below you” (the infrastructure on which you built your business) to be less dependent of your suppliers? As far as I know, even highly industrial companies have diversified buy buying their suppliers when the “bargaining pwer” of the later was more favorable to them.If you look at the web industry, milions of great businesses reply on 5 browsers (2 of them have a significant Market share), this is a extreme weakness for Google!Similarly their attempt to promote net neutrality is also a way to “secure” their supplies!

    1. andyswan

      I hereby nominate this for comment of the day.

  16. Druce

    the problem with 1) is if you don’t build a significantly better version of Firefox / IE you don’t get desktop penetration. Look how long it took Firefox to get to 30%.3 possibilities -1) they will debut killer apps that will work best in Chrome, and this will drive Firefox (or even IE) to support their cloud. It’s a testbed to drive standards (HotJava redux? but why couldn’t they just contribute the necessary code to Firefox?)2) they actually think they need desktop penetration and have a long-term plan to get there (but why? they’ve done fine with IE and Mozilla owning the browser. Is Firefox going to align with Microsoft? seems to hint at evil intrigue, or disagreement with Mozilla about direction)3) it’s all just a mad science fun project

  17. John Poisson

    Your excitement about Android ignores the long-standing fact that carriers control precisely what goes on the devices they sell. (And this is true around the world; the unlocked phone market represents a phenomenally small portion of devices sold.)Android’s a lovely piece of engineering, but it simply can’t be on every device on every carrier unless the carriers will it to be. And they won’t. The mobile ecosystem is ~not like the PC ecosystem, and there cannot be a Microsoft in this world. Symbian didn’t get there, and there’s little evidence to suggest that Google will.

    1. fredwilson

      I can put my t-mobile sim card in any unlocked phone I want and t-mobile hasn’t stopped me from doing that. The only phone that has ever been problematic is the iPhone and that’s apple’s doing, not t-mobile’s doing

      1. John Poisson

        You can indeed, but a vast percentage of the world’s population simply doesn’t.For Android to become the Microsoft of the mobile world would require a series of cataclysmic changes in the dynamics of each of the world’s major mobile markets, and that strikes me as a near impossibility.

  18. Ade

    Tried it and went back to Firefox two minutes later like i did after Safari/PC. Don’t like the look and feel and if there are any good ideas, then Firefox 4 will have them. Reminds me of the Google Chat client, it was popular for a little while and everyone went back to MSN/Skype.

  19. Derek Skaletsky

    Isn’t the future of computing one in which there will be no distinction between ‘mobile computing’ and ‘non-mobile’ computing. The only thing that really matters is connectivity. With connectivity, isn’t all computing essentially the same? While I love this post, I’m not sure I agree with the three-legged stool reference. That makes it sound like that Google is done with their “platform” or “infrastructure” development with the launch of these three initiatives. It seems to me that these three initiatives are just a few more building blocks in their ultimate play for the universal operating system of the future…I’m not a technical person, but it seems to me like they’ve got Microsoft’s operating system in their sights (and their play for broadcast spectrums and free wireless are also pieces to the puzzle — consistent, constant connectivity is the open door through which the Google OS will drive)…

  20. Barry Welford

    I really relate to that statement of yours, Fred.It is on this three legged stool (browser, mobile, cloud) that Google’s future will be built.Mobile is where we will all be not too far down the road and I’m sure Google is planning that they will ‘own’ the mobile world. One thing they are excellent on is keeping things under wraps. Chrome seems to have surprised so many people. Android seems to be hanging fire publicly. However ‘under the wraps’, who knows what’s going on.

  21. Robi Ganguly

    This is certainly a compelling reason to follow what Google’s doing with interest, to invest in them for the long term (because unlike most companies, they truly plan for the long term) and to learn from them. I believe that they’re a very smart and well-organized company, but that their DNA isn’t in the business of building applications. Rather, it’s in the management of large amounts of data and the infrastructure required to store, index and organize it. Aren’t many of us forgetting that Google is first and foremost a company built around search and that the majority of its technologists spend their time thinking about that problem? That thinking frames their designs, their decision-making and their strategy.Before we crown them the winners of the cloud application business, let’s instead ask the question: Their approaches to these markets are based upon how they can bring their strength in search and infrastructure, so what’s their angle in this market? What should we expect them to do well and make money from and what should we expect them to be poor at and opportunities for other players?

  22. testspecimen

    Hey, don’t forget the plan to free the TV whitespace – hopefully leading to free and unmonitored wifi for all 😉

  23. Tom

    Apple doesn’t wanna have the “Windows” mobile phone.Google may wanna be the next Microsoft … the next big brother.

  24. Ian Wilson

    I installed Chrome, very nice, and this spurred me to move my business apps and mail over to Google. I wonder if this was on their minds too? Probably so, I had a wry smile on my face as the whole process was so much like moving into the “warm embrace” of Microsoft that it dripped with irony.Have you noticed that maximizing Chrome makes the top window bard disappear, and setting your task bar to auto hide effectively makes Windows disappear to be replaced by the Google “Desktop”?Once bitten twice shy? Probably not.

  25. Mac

    I’m probably being cynical, but I can’t shake the feeling that the primary benefit to Chrome is the inability to block Google ads…

  26. Douglas Karr

    Curious what your thoughts are regarding VMWare’s vCloud technology and how it will impact cloud computing. It seems the ‘big boys’ like Google were shortsighted on building mega-datacenters when software can create a virtual cloud of thousands of smaller datacenters. I was visiting Bluelock in Indianapolis recently and think what they are doing as part of this initiative is a real game changer. I’m not saying they’ll knock Google off, but many companies would rather work with smaller companies who will provide greater attention and service while still benefiting from cloud technologies.