Great post about what Google is up to by Rich Skrenta. He argues that Google is building a huge computer with a custom operating system that everyone on earth can have an account on. His last few paragraphs are so much more perceptive than anything that’s been written about Google by anyone; Skrenta nails the company exactly:
Google is a company that has built a single very large, custom computer. It’s running their own cluster operating system. They make their big computer even bigger and faster each month, while lowering the cost of CPU cycles. It’s looking more like a general purpose platform than a cluster optimized for a single application.
While competitors are targeting the individual applications Google has deployed, Google is building a massive, general purpose computing platform for web-scale programming.
This computer is running the world’s top search engine, a social networking service, a shopping price comparison engine, a new email service, and a local search/yellow pages engine. What will they do next with the world’s biggest computer and most advanced operating system?
I was thrilled reading this today because I had been thinking along the same lines as I wondered about Gmail (and the 1GB of storage in particular)…and that Skrenta had made the argument so well. This weekend, as I hacked through a bunch of XHTML and CSS for an upcoming site redesign, I jotted down a few notes for a follow-up on a post I made over a year ago called Google is not a search company. I was going to call it “GooOS, the Google Operating System”.
My notes contained two of Skrenta’s main points: the importance of the supercomputer and the scores of Ph.Ds being Google’s main assets. A third key asset for Google is the data that they’re storing on those 100,000 computers. As I said in that post:
Google’s money won’t be made with search…that’s small peanuts compared to selling access to the world’s biggest, best, and most cleverly-utilized map of the web.
So. They have this huge map of the Web and are aware of how people move around in the virtual space it represents. They have the perfect place to store this map (one of the world’s largest computers that’s all but incapable of crashing). And they are clever at reading this map. Google knows what people write about, what they search for, what they shop for, they know who wants to advertise and how effective those advertisements are, and they’re about to know how we communicate with friends and loved ones. What can they do with all that? Just about anything that collection of Ph.Ds can dream up.
Tim O’Reilly has talked about various bits from the Web morphing into “the emergent Internet operating system”; the small pieces loosely joining, if you will. Google seems to be heading there already, all by themselves. By building and then joining a bunch of the small pieces by themselves, Google can take full advantage of the economies of scale and avoid the difficulties of interop.
Google isn’t worried about Yahoo! or Microsoft’s search efforts…although the media’s focus on that is probably to their advantage. Their real target is Windows. Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world’s fastest computer running the smartest operating system? Mobile devices don’t need big, bloated OSes…they’ll be perfect platforms for accessing the GooOS. Using Gnome and Linux as a starting point, Google should design an OS for desktop computers that’s modified to use the GooOS and sell it right alongside Windows ($200) at CompUSA for $10/apiece (available free online of course). Google Office (Goffice?) will be built in, with all your data stored locally, backed up remotely, and available to whomever it needs to be (SubEthaEdit-style collaboration on Word/Excel/PowerPoint-esque documents is only the beginning). Email, shopping, games, music, news, personal publishing, etc.; all the stuff that people use their computers for, it’s all there.
Even though everyone’s down on Google these days, they remain the most interesting company in the world and I’m optimistic about their potential and success (while also apprehensive about the prospect of using Google for absolutely everything someday…I’ll be cursing the Google monopoly in 5 years time). If they stay on target with their plans to leverage their three core assets (which, if Gmail is any indication, they will), I predict Google will be the biggest and most important company in the world in 5-8 years.