Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Bing going Bust

Found this while slumming on Yahoo (you don't think there's just a tiny bit of Yahoo schadenfreude going on here, do you???).
If Bing's first month represented Microsoft's (MSFT) best shot at stealing search market share from Google (GOOG) -- complete with Bing ads everywhere -- it's a huge disappointment.

Microsoft's U.S. search market share was 8.4% in June, up from 8.0% in May, according to comScore.

It would have been a disaster if Bing didn't grow at all with all that advertising and free promotion via news coverage, so at least it's up a little. (And represents Microsoft's best month since 8.5% share in January.) But gaining 40 basis points -- especially as Google's 65.0% share stayed steady -- is not an impressive victory.

It'll still be a few months before we know if Bing is going to be a long-term success for Microsoft. But based on this lackluster first month's showing -- and recent survey results suggesting 98% of searchers won't switch to Bing as their primary search engine -- there's little reason to get excited.

Meanwhile, Yahoo continued to lose share, accounting for 19.6% of the U.S. search market in June, down from 20.1% in May. After having stabilized, downward momentum for Yahoo is not good, and makes a search deal with Microsoft more likely.
Yes indeed. Every time Microsoft tries to do something contemporary and/or cool to match the Googles and the Apples of this world, it always comes out flatter than an open day-old Coke. Search. MP-3 players (Zune). The only thing that is remotely successful is XBox, and that's because it was Sony's to loose, not Microsoft's to win.

Of course that doesn't mean that Google's Chrome OS is going to wipe up the floor with Windows (what an odd metaphor). Google could easily wind up being as spectacular a failure with it's foray into operating systems as Microsoft continues to be with search. Google may have the coolness, but they currently lack the hard-core engineering discipline required to develop and support something as complex as an OS in the manner it should be supported for widespread acceptance. Only time will tell.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

I think I was wrong about Intel

I mentioned earlier how Intel might be concerned that Google's Chrome OS is targeting ARM as well as x86. Turns out Intel has been 'in' on this Chrome OS thing for some time now. PCWorld reports that Intel has been helping Google develop features of Chrome OS to work better with Intel processors. And that's a good thing, considering that Intel processors are in "around four-fifths of the world's computers."

But what's telling is that Intel was not mentioned as one of Chrome OS' early supporters in Google's initial announcement. Why?
Google is aiming the Chrome OS at desktops, laptops and netbooks, all devices dominated by Microsoft Windows, so supporting Chrome could put Intel in an awkward position with Microsoft.
There's that accusation again that Google is aiming the Chrome OS at desktops and laptops, not just netbooks. Again, I have to keep going back to Google's original announcement and the emphasis on netbooks, netbooks, netbooks.

But if it is true that Google's long term goal is beyond the netbook, then Intel's lying low to avoid colliding with Microsoft is telling about Microsoft's continuing monopolistic dominance. And it may be that Intel wants to play nice with Google in spite of its emphasis on ARM-based netbooks in order to pull away from being a bullying monopolist itself.

Funny old world we live it, isn't it?

Friday, July 10, 2009

Yes, lets all take a deep breath, shall we?

I take the title of this post from Fake Steve Jobs' post, "Let's all take a deep breath and get some perspective." FSJ's post was bitingly funny (as always) and pointed out some interesting truths (again, as always). But then I ran into Jack Schofield's article on Google's Chrome OS, where he went on to opine:
Either way, the idea that businesses are soon going to replace Windows with Chrome OS is beyond fanciful. Businesses whinge like mad when they have to adapt one of their tens of millions of "legacy" programs to run properly on IE8 rather than IE7, or IE7 rather than IE6, or whatever. The minor changes from XP to Vista were apparently beyond many of them. They're not going to rewrite 10-15 years worth of programs to run them via Chrome OS any time soon. Even if they want to, and can afford the attempt, it's going to take a decade.
Wowsers! He's absolutely right, if you assume that Google is trying to push Chrome OS as a replacement for Windows. But that's not what Google said. Let's go back to Google's blog announcement and re-read that, shall we?
Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks... Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year. The software architecture is simple — Google Chrome running within a new windowing system on top of a Linux kernel. For application developers, the web is the platform.. All web-based applications will automatically work and new applications can be written using your favorite web technologies. And of course, these apps will run not only on Google Chrome OS, but on any standards-based browser on Windows, Mac and Linux thereby giving developers the largest user base of any platform.
OK. So let's look at the little nuggets in the section quoted from Google. They're targeting netbooks, the lowest powered group of devices in the notebook pantheon, what many call "good enough" computers. Powered by processors with the same computational throughput you had 10-15 years ago when the 486 was considered low-end ghetto and the Pentium 2's and 3's were being introduced (remember all those slot-based processor modules?). And not just low-end x86, but ARM based systems as well.

Google is also targeting the Web. I don't know how many times they said it, but over and over they stressed that Chrome OS is a portable front-end to the Web, and the Web services in particular. Not Windows (XP, Vista, or 7). Not Microsoft Office. Nor any of the "tens of millions of legacy programs." This is an OS with very specific targets, and believe it or not, desktop Windows isn't one of them.

What Google is promising is an OS that is streamlined and targeted to run on those platforms in order to provide a good user experience. That's a far cry from Linux and Microsoft, who are attempting to take their current bloated offerings and shoe-horn it onto these deliberately limited platforms. This is good engineering on Google's part, a far cry from the lazy 'business as usual' attitudes from Microsoft and the various Linux camps. People choose Windows over Linux on netbooks, not so much because Windows is better, but because Windows is the lesser of two evils on those platforms.

If Google builds Chrome OS right, then it really won't matter if it's not Windows. And frankly it won't be mainstream Linux either, which will definitely be a Good Thing. Because it's about time we had a genuinely new OS to work with. Henry Spencer once said "Those who don't understand UNIX are condemned to reinvent it, poorly." The same can be said of graphical user interfaces. If we consider the lineage of GUIs from Xerox's gold standard through Apple's poor interpretation on through Microsoft's poorer interpretation and finally into Linux's even poorer interpretation, then the time is long past due for a reboot, if not a revolution, of the entire environment. Google wants to do that with netbooks because the classic PC desktop has long since fossilized under layer after layer Windows detritus. Google wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of pushing this directly against Windows on the PC platform, and Google knows it.

Google is here to really tip over everybody's special apple carts on the netbook platform. They really can pull this off. I hope they succeed. I wish them well.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

This Changes Everything

I'm sure I'm the last to comment on Google's Chrome OS. I'm getting my information from the usual suspects: Ars Technica, Wired (here and here), Yahoo, and CNN, to name but a few.

Here's my take on all this.
  1. All the Linux distributors are going to adapt or die, and frankly, I think many of them will die. They need to. Up to this point Linux has been dominated by the Big Three: Redhat, Novell (SuSE), and Ubuntu (Debian). Everybody else has been a pygmy to these three giants, and that includes Mandriva (the distributions formerly known as Mandrake and Conectiva). Regardless of the current incumbents size it will drive the concept of product quality down every one's throat, and frankly, it's about time.

    That drive towards quality should (I say should) also clean out the silly political posturing by some Linux notables about what they will or will not do based on their unique interpretation of the GPL. With Google officially in the ring, this has now become a Real Business. Google OS may be given away, but it won't be free to screw around with.

    The Google OS with the Chrome Browser is the entrée to all of Google and its online services. It has to run first time every time. It has to be rock solid and high quality to attract new users and keep them. It has to work seamlessly with every system it's loaded on. It won't be Linux as usual, and I can't wait.

  2. It will put a world of real hurt on Microsoft. A world of hurt Microsoft deserves. My only fear is that Microsoft will buy enough sympathy in Washington that the federal government will punish Google for 'abusing' its 'monopoly' position. After all, who else but Microsoft knows about abusing its monopoly position.

    Microsoft has already run crying to Washington over this, and with some limited effect. Certain quarters in Washington are already muttering darkly about Google's position and the need to 'do something'. But Google will survive, and there is nothing that Microsoft will be able to do except adapt or die.

    If anything, the ensuing competition will force Microsoft to slim down; after all, what normal company could have survived the PR disaster of the XBox 360's RROD and the subsequent billions it's had to charge off to clean up that mess? The only reason to keep the XBox is to turn it into the home entertainment hub, serving up diverse entertainment far beyond game playing. If anything, the XBox would be Microsoft's counter-weight to Google OS on netbooks. And that's what our Dear Leaders in Washington need to understand before they make Microsoft an even more entrenched monopoly than it currently is. Beware Unintended Consequences.

  3. Apple will be marginalized in yet another market. Apple is a monopoly in the on-line music space, but that is a very narrow vertical market compared to what Google could provide with the Google OS on a netbook. And with a Mac OS native version of Chrome, anyone with a Mac could ride the Google train.

    Google doesn't need Apple, Apple needs Google simply because Google has been working on the network infrastructure since its inception. Apple may attempt to compete with Google with its own offerings, and it may have limited success, but it won't stop the Google juggernaut.

    The biggest impact will be on Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch. If Apple is smart they'll find ways to integrate Google services with the iPhone and Touch. Even though there will be lots of Android smartphones, the Apple iPhone will continue to be the best that money can buy, and many people will want to continue to use it. Apple needs to market the iPhone as a premier mobile platform for premier services, of which Google will definitely belong. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.

  4. I wasn't paying enough attention to the official Google announcement, but buried in there is this interesting statement: "Google Chrome OS will run on both x86 as well as ARM chips and we are working with multiple OEMs to bring a number of netbooks to market next year."

    Wow. I bet that will make Intel and AMD sit up and take notice, especially Intel with its Atom and other low-power processors. The Atom got into the netbook space because it was a compromise solution for running today's OS, and Windows (XP) got in there because the versions of Linux being offered were, in a word, awful. But with Google behind this unique version of Linux being targeted for ARM in the netbook space, anything is possible. Atom is still an energy hog compared to ARM.

    What can ARM do for netbooks? How about a netbook with 16 or more hours of useful life between charges? Or how about coating the top of a netbook with solar cells that could trickle charge the batteries?

    Or how about this idea. Close the netbook, turning off the screen and other heavy energy sinks (like the disk drive) but leave the processor running in a reduced frequency mode. The top solar cells could provide just enough juice to allow the processor to remain connected to the network without slowly draining the primary batteries. Real, constant connectivity supplemented by any light source, natural or artificial.
So, in a nutshell, I see Linux finally growing up (a Good Thing), Microsoft finally getting its comeuppance (again, a Good Thing), Apple, as usual, being the enigma, and the x86 boys getting the bejeebers scared out of them. Whatever happens, it's going to be a very interesting ride.

Update

The Official Google Announcement. How could I have missed that???
Yet Another Analysis (YAA) from Ars Technica.

Update 2

Sour grapes from the Open Source mouthpiece? Perhaps, or perhaps a solid dose of reality. For Google and Google supporters such as me.
And of course, Fake Steve wades in with his opinion.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Other Web Toys

If anyone is interested, I've got a Twitter account (@wbeebe).
I've also broken down and got myself a Facebook account (http://www.facebook.com/william.beebe.jr).
I've got a fairly active Flickr account (http://www.flickr.com/photos/wbeebe).
Last, but not least, is my LinkedIn account (http://www.linkedin.com/in/williambeebe).

So when I'm not here, I'm obviously elsewhere, both on and off the web.

Chrome Comes Through

I may have my gripes about some of Chrome's peculiarities, but I've never complained about the Big Issues like Stability. Chrome once again showed me why it's good to have around. A tab/page with a Flash plugin crashed, and another tab showed that just the Flash plugin itself crashed. In neither case did the browser show any instability. The tab recovered itself nicely and I kept on going. That's what I want in every application: rock-solid stability. That's why I use Chrome over any other Windows-based browser. And frankly it's just one more reason why I continue to use Microsoft Windows.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Annoyances of Blogspot

Yes, you shouldn't bite the hand that feeds you, especially for free. But I've had enough.

First, I get the occasional comment I need to moderate (don't be shocked, but some people actually read and respond to my rambling writings). When I do, I go to my blog and into Comment Moderation to see them listed. So far, no problem. However, when using the latest Chrome (2.0.172.33), I can't click on the expand arrow to expand the text. It works just dandy in Firefox 3.5, but not so much in Chrome 2. Where's the problem? I'd say Chrome, but I would need to grab the Javascript behind the expand control just to make sure. You know, in case somebody is checking browsers and versions and forgot about Chrome version 2. Something silly like that.

Second, I now type everything in raw HTML and text instead of Compose. Why? Primarily because some genius decided to wrap every single paragraph in a pair of empty div tags. This expands the space between paragraphs to more than one line, and that just drives me crazy when I see it. When that happens I go into Edit Html mode and delete each and every one. I got started using Html/text mode in order to put tables in my posts. As actual tables of tabular data. I have no problems with raw HTML as I've been slinging it since 1996, when I accidentally stumbled onto this web thing via Apache running on SGI boxen. But that's a long, long time ago. No, I got lazy over the WYSIWYG editing (such as it is). But I can fall back on the type-html-and-them-Preview methodology. Like back in the old days when I was constantly checking pages in the browser during an edit session.

I guess if I were serious about this blogging business I'd go to a more sophisticated platform. But I'm always too slammed for time, and after four years of posts (four years as of May of this year) and over 500 posts, it's going to be a bit of a hassle to gather all this up and drag it somewhere else. Especially with all the pictures and content.

Yes, I'm too lazy, and all I can do is complain. So sue me.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Firefox 3.5: Stumbling out of the gate

Tuesday 30 June was the day that Firefox 3.5 was officially released. Many sites sang glorious hymns to its new features and overdue improvements. Based on those initial reports (I'm so gullible) I went slumming over to mozilla.org and downloaded the 3.5 installer. Know ye that I am a unrepentant Googlite, preferring to worship at the shiny altar of Chrome.

I've used Firefox for a long time, helping to use and test it when it was first known as Phoenix (remember them big ugly orange buttons?). Light and lean when compared to Mozilla, it was just what I wanted and needed for my own personal use.

Time marched on, and Firefox accreted features and bloat. In particular it became a memory hog around version 2. I left Firefox at version 2 on my Windows notebook, while upgrading to version 3 under Linux (both willingly as well as part of the general release schedules). I was never really tempted to move from 2 to 3 under Windows; after all, It Worked For Me and that was all that mattered.

Then, in September 2008 I installed the first Google Chrome beta for Windows, and I never looked back. It combined awesome stability with awesome speed and awesome simplicity. I wound up with not one, but two legacy browsers on my Windows notebook; IE 7 and FF 2.

Smoke Test

Based on the glowing review at Ars Technica, I downloaded and installed 3.5 earlier today. FF 3.5 installed without any issues, upgrading my NoScript plugin during the installation process. That is the first time I've every upgraded Firefox and have NoScript properly tracked, so kudos to both teams on that. The new FF also remembered all my open tabs and other bits. From an installation perspective it was fast and absolutely flawless.

Problems occurred during execution. The Ars Technica article points to a new feature developed for Firefox, 3D transforms. When I executed the demo the entire browser crashed.

Finis

One of the three reasons I gave earlier for switching to Chrome was its stability, which is due in no small part to the design decision to use a multi-process architecture, where a process is assigned to each site instance and plugin. Crashes in tabs I can live with. Crashes of the entire browser due to a problem in one tab is no longer excusable, especially within the first 30 minutes of trying out a new release.

I'm in the process of building a proof-of-concept in which certain 'fat' clients are replaced by rich browser applications. One of the assumptions going into this was that I could find at least one rock-solid browser that would not crash if there was an issue in a tab. So far Chrome lives up to that assumption. I had high hopes that FF 3.5 might be as stable, and thus a viable alternative. But after today's minor adventure I'm not so sure. At least I have Chrome.