Sunday, August 17, 2008

Google should just take the Gnome online desktop and run with it

First plot line: gOS

There's a lot of buzz gOS 3.0 out . gOS is one of those distros that just rocketed to fame in its first five minutes, and since it's released about every four months, it stays in the news. Back in November, 2007 when it was first let onto the scene, I tried it out and wrote about it. It had too many usability bugs at that point.

The "g" in the first couple of weeks was speculated to mean Google, which of course it didn't (trademark issues and all). The developer came out after some contemplation and said it stood for "good." Fine. It was still the Google desktop and nothing could change that. It wasn't, however, particularly integrated or, more importantly, "good."

Second plot line: Gnome Online Desktop

Fedora has a project with Gnome to create an online desktop. Gnome has its . I looked at it back in May and though it was cool, but again needed more integration. I think I came off as whiny and as the kind of guy who orders around developers. It wasn't intended to be that way.

Anyway, the basic idea of the online desktop is that you sign into Gnome using your online profile and your connection details are loaded, connecting you to your IM and e-mail contacts. Everything gets aggregated into a (affectionately called the "bigboard"). You could conceivably log into any computer which had teh online desktop functionality and just get to work. Think of SunRays or romaing profiles for the Internet age.

Third plot line (or "how compllicated is this story, anyway?"): The Zonbu

Last year, the Zonbu came out and got pretty good reviews from the people who understood what it was supposed to do. What was it supposed to do? Be an appliance with no maintenance. It was a completely hosted desktop experience.The hosting service cost about US$10 per month, and uptake has been slow. That's too bad because I think it's a great idea.

The Climax: Where does Google fit in?

The climax here is kind of a let-down because I've already given you too much information. Yes, Google should take the Gnome online desktop and web-centered OS concepts and package them into a Google appliance.

There is a problem with this idea: people have been calling for Google to make a Linux distro since maybe 2004. They haven't done it yet. Why would they put one out now? The answer is that their online application profile is pretty much complete at this point. Google has the following services now integrated with your Google login:
  1. GMail e-mail
  2. IM/voice
  3. (and presentations...)
  4. photos

  5. Orkut social networking
  6. videos
  7. wiki
They now have the possibility of supplying virtually every online need for the average user. Sure, they've had most of these services for a while, but they weren't all consolidated until just recently because most were purchased and had to be integrated over time.

So what's the proposed "product?" First, a beta of a Linux distro which uses your Google ID as a login credential. Once you're signed into the desktop, your contacts, e-mail, documents, calendar, and photos are all waiting for you. There need be no further configuration. Most of the functionality can be accessed through Google gadgets, Picassa, and Prism (a Mozilla webapp platform). Of course, since Google does no evil, they should allow users to add outside services such as Flickr and Facebook. The login credentials for these services will need to be stored on the Google server. I'd love for this distro to be based on Debian, but Google is pretty good at putting together their own flavors. They definitely have the expertise to do this and do it well.

Once the kinks are sufficiently worked out by the early adopter crowd, Google can begin selling a Zonbu-like setup with the Google Online Desktop preinstalled. Google already sells appliances. It should be no big change in philosophy for the online corporation. Unlike Zonbu, though, Google doesn't need to charge a monthly fee. That should encourage sales. The unit will probably be quite small with a tiny amount of flash ROM, enough RAM to keep it snappy, and a low-power CPU like MIPS, ARM, Nano or Atom. Heck, even a Geode would work.

The Solution: How would they make money?

The obvious answer to this question is ad impressions. This implementation encourages more people to use more Google services, driving up impressions and generating more revenue. Sure, people can still use Yahoo! mail or Flickr if they want to, but lazy folk are going to be putting their photos up on Picassa and checking their e-mail through GMail. We saw how defaults worked out for Internet Explorer.

Google could try to make money on the hardware, but why would they do that? They are primarily a web company. They could sell the appliances for little more than cost and still succeed. Keeping the cost as low as possible would further drive sales. As long as the unit is an appliance with no CD, users are much less likely to try to insall incompatible software.

Long-term, Google can follow their current business model by pushing client-server appliances into the enterprise. They have search appliances. They are almost certainly coming out with Docs and Sreadsheets appliances soon. Google could create an easy single-signon solution for medium-sized businesses. Small businesses could host the info at Google until they grow.


I'm not supporting everyone giving over their life to Google. I use some of their services a lot, like GMail and Blogger. Some I use less, like Youtube, Calendar, and Docs. Some I don't use at all, like Picassa and Orkut. Despite this, I think Google's goal is to get as many people using as many of the services as possible, and creating their own online appliance is in line with that goal.

My questions is: would you buy one for yourself? How about for a family member or friend? Is there a real market for a web appliance from a company with a large web presence?

No comments:

Post a Comment

Other I' Been to Ubuntu Stories