Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Life, the universe, and everything

When Douglas Adams had his characters in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ask the infinite question about life, the universe and everything, they got the answer 42! In my last two blogs I’ve been talking about AJAX and Web 2.0 and the exciting stuff that’s happening out there. But recently Google seems to have the answer to life, the universe, and everything. Well, maybe not quite, but it does seem to be the most interesting company to follow at the moment.

What am I talking about? Well I mentioned previously that Google was using AJAX in its Google Earth project (earth.google.com) and that it was considered right up there with companies that were Web 2.0 adopters. More recently Google CEO Eric Schmidt's has joined the board of directors at Apple. Is this because a) Apple need all the help they can get, b) Google hates Microsoft so much they want to cement links with suppliers of alternative platforms, or c) Apple want you to be able to download iTunes from the Google toolbar? Or is it a combination of all three?

More excitingly, Google has announced Google Apps, which will develop into a real alternative to Microsoft Office. I run Widgets on my laptop – so I can see my wireless signal strength, I can see a calendar, I get a BBC newsfeed, and I get the weather. I also have the drumkit widget, which I think is very clever, and sometimes, for no good reason at all, I have a dalek wander round my screen. But widgets are owned by Yahoo – another would-be rival to Google. Google (although it offers its own widget-like Web apps) is going for something much more useful. It plans to offer for free (although paid for through advertising) e-mail, calendar, and instant messaging plus Web site creating software. But this is only the first step. Next Google will make available word processing and spreadsheet software. Word processing will be based on Writely, which Google acquired a little while ago. The spreadsheet will most likely be called Google Spreadsheets (how do they come up with these names!). The clever plan behind this is remarkably simple. Everyone, or so it seems has Word and Excel on their computer so who needs another similar application? But, everyone seems to have a different version of Word, etc, and, even though Microsoft now employ Ray Ozzie – the man behind Notes and Domino – they are not so good at sharing files so that different people can work on them. This is where the Google strategy scores heavily. Not only does every user work with the latest version of the software, they can easily e-mail them and edit them.

The other thing that will happen is that these files will be stored on Google’s disks. This makes them easier to share and, kind of, makes Google indispensable. Google already operates a photo storing facility with its Picasa software.

Will Microsoft take this lying down? Of course not – they already have plans for their Live brand. And they’ll be making other plans already.

It’s just Google is being dynamic at the moment with agreements with other companies (like Sun and Dell – and even BA, www.ba.com, is using Google Earth in a mash-up), and it has leading-edge software that people want to use and can use fairly easily (although Google Earth V4 still won’t run on my laptops!!). So maybe not the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but very interesting and useful all the same.

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