Google: Evil Empire or WYSIWYou've come to expect?

11:44:00 AM


As cloud computing and the open source movement rolls into high gear, its biggest champion, Google, faces a gloomy outlook given to companies remiss in crossing their T's and dotting their I's 

While I'm a big fan of Google, gobbling up just about every feature it releases while still in beta, they seem to be running the same path befitting developers of platforms. That is, while Microsoft established the first standard for what we've come to expect in a computing experience with Windows, Google is well poised for the same position for defining for us the same experience in "the cloud." And while in the pioneering days - 1998 - Microsoft overran all its competition, dominating the market with its products, and almost decimating into oblivion what we know now as the mighty Mac Book, Google seems to be the likely choice for holding the title and presiding with kingly stature over the Web 2.0 proving grounds.

And what had made Microsoft so formidable was that the PC world was, by-and-large, an open platform. Both hardware and software manufacturers were given the opportunity to designing and engineer for it. While Microsoft and Windows' contribution was the OS that tied all these diverse threads of market competition together, its product increasing in value when a plethora of software and hardware choices dominated the puny shelf spaces of Apple or Linux, it was heralded for a time as our savior. It launched a stock market boom, and gave rise to the term Tech Stocks. It formed the cornerstone of the IPO boom. It made us believe that anything was possible, as if our generation had traveled to the Moon as well. It was a Golden Era, but the enthusiasm, as with all things, didn't last.

Bill Gates at this time became the image of national Evil long before Bush came onto the scene. His fickle audience - the one who thought that a comuterisized utopia aught to be at hand - criticized Microsoft for not only for violating anti-trust laws, but also for being negligent at delivering a reliable product that didn't crash. The computerized world had, rightly, become paranoid that, because no one could touch this juggernaut devouring small upstarts that soon became a piece in their Start>Accessories bar, there would be no check or balance to their mighty dominion.

Well, no one knew at the time that, while the fear that unstable computing was becoming a norm, that a simple search box on a nearly blank page, Google, would become the David to this Goliath.

But Google seems to be repeating the mistakes of the past. Apple, even on its death bed, was still touted as having a better, more robust computing experience. It did so since Apple had a heavy hand in coding for its operating system. While Windows had gone the route of a free-for-all and developers-run-amok with the fine print of "compute at your own risk," Apple's saving grace was the claim that no virus or buggy warez could even make a beach head on its virgin desktop.

But while Google has built its temple and is in full stride with its mighty empire; while Google has, recently, done what most in the Microsoft days would reckon is the unthinkable: divorced itself of even the need to have an internet connection to use some of its products; while their competitors - Yahoo and Microsoft are still clamoring for their piece of the Web 2.0 market share; while Google has championed the "open source" movement in the form of its arsenal of gadgets and its incursion into mobile communications with the Open Handset Alliance, it has fallen prey to the same forces that disappointed once proud owners of a PC - the bugs; the pesky failures because, when code is so freely given and manipulated, a platform opens itself up to potential hazards. The header for Gmail "labs" projects informs you:
Gmail Labs: Some crazy experimental stuff.
Gmail Labs is a testing ground for experimental features that aren't quite ready for primetime. They may change,break or disappear at any time.
If (when) a Labs feature breaks, and you're having trouble loading your inbox, there's an escape hatch. Use http://mail.google.com/mail/?labs=0.
In other words, like with Microsoft, "compute at your own risk." That's fine and dandy when it's declared that these projects are not "ready for primetime," but Google has, unfortunately gone a step further with their business model that defies even the reckless gobbling up of small Web developer projects and including it in its kingdom. Their platform is built and patch together in a more haphazard way than Microsoft ever dared to do. Here's what Google declares about one of its recent additions to its pre-loaded OS:


Tasks: the first graduate of Gmail Labs
Available in Gmail, Google Calendar, iGoogle and on your mobile phone, Tasks is the simple to-do list that's with you everywhere you go. Click "Tasks" above your chat list to get started (no need to turn it on from the Labs tab anymore). Learn more

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The key word here is "graduate." That is, Google has finally moved it from the its "compute at your own risk" to the the mainstream of its platform's offerings. But there's one catch. Unlike Microsoft or Adobe or any other software developer of note (and Google is now is in their league if not dominating some of them), Google has not gone the distance of standardizing some critical features for its products.

Some notable and egregious omissions are are that, while a lot of its products use the "tag" concept to organize information, it's mysteriously missing in both Google Docs and Tasks. Feedburner does not readily integrate with Blogger - both Google products. Picasa loads on your machine rather than operating in the cloud. You can toggle which of your multiple calendars to view, but only the default task list in the can be viewed Google Calendar agenda if you're running multiple sets of tasks. Google Notebook was discontinued and whose operation has been absorbed into Google Reader with the assumption that users can hack a feed reader into doing operations that Notebook handles so effortlessly. Updating your Google Profile doesn't update your blogger profile. Google Desktop is nearly unusable with some of its "official" gadgets not allowing you to even re-size their windows on your screen. The list is surprisingly rather substantial for such a powerhouse in the computing realm.

In short, this quilt that is Google, designed and developed around a simple search page have some serious short comings when it comes to working together and manipulating data across all of of Google's offerings. While they're keeping busy with adding more stuff, they seem to be extraordinarily remiss in finding ways for their new, graduating labs features to have a continuity or uniformity in operation. And to boot, Google is sponsoring an initiative called the Data Liberation Front (DLF) who is devoted to tackling this same issue that they're responsible for creating. Even Microsoft's millions of applications have a set of uniform keyboard shortcuts or methods of cross-polinating your records between various applications.

At any rate, what this amounts to is that Google, while the banner carrier of innovations in Webware and a likely candidate to become the next Behemoth in the new architecture of the computing experience, both in the cloud or natively on your desktop or mobile phone, it has a lot to learn from the past. Microsoft and Yahoo are still just trying to keep up, but when the gloss and gleam of Google as the heralded of a new age in this story of the World Wide Web starts to loose its sheen, it will, if it doesn't check itself, become the next Evil Empire- one noted for its rather peculiar disdain for its buggy nature and shoddy workmanship.

All this said, I still am a big fan, and would hope that Google doesn't leave it up to its Labs projects or grass-roots movements like the DLF (which might just be yet another one of its Lab projects) to figure out how it can gain its integrity. I would hope that Google takes a moment of pause to put a trim and backing and fluff to its patches-yet-made-into-a-quilt. I suppose that if Google doesn't slow down a bit to bring order to its kingdom, it will soon face the ire of the community that depends on that. And, an empire that is divided won't last for long.

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