ChromeBook reinvents the Thin Client

Google’s Android is probably the mobile platform that, in the popular perception, is coming closest to the iPhone. Now there’s the ChromeBook. It’s a couple of weeks since the announcement, so there’s been chance for reactions to hit the web. Time for a round-up, then.

First, a recap. Sundar Pichai presented the Day 2 keynote at Google I/O from the Chrome team. The Chromebook presentation occupied the second half of this. The case for Chromebook is that, these days, most users spend most of their time on the Web (as I’m doing now, creating this post). That’s whether they’re private individuals or corporate users. Individuals upload pictures to Facebook, and communicate with friends either there or on Twitter (or possibly e-mail).

Corporates are adopting cloud services for collaboration, ordering, sales management, and all the services which used to need large servers. Given a wide range of online apps, there’s almost no need for the historic baggage of disc storage, system checking, backup, antivirus and so on. So Chrome, and the Chromebook, throw all this away. The Chromebook is what we used to call a Thin Client: no processing power, no local storage, just apps and data. in the cloud. It’s an always-on, always-connected world (of course, so long as your provider – Google – doesn’t go down; it’s been known, but then so do corporate centres).

What’s neat is the ability to register online apps as file handlers; and these are integrated into the context menus. So, for example, images might be handled by Facebook, by a screen viewer, or by an image editor app: all these show up as right-click options.

Where the hand-waving comes is when Google admit that devices are sometimes actually disconnected: so that some apps (Gmail and Google Docs, for early starters) are now available for offline use. We didn’t hear what that means in terms of a return to local storage, local processing and so on … But the I/O presentation rounds off with some interesting enterprise use cases, which would certainly be easily predictable to anyone whose memory goes back to the old thin client days or to Sun’s web client machine for that matter. Netbook technologies never made the mainstream somehow. Will it be different this time?

Well, with a little time to consider, who thinks what? TechRepublic’s Jason Hiner thinks that corporate IT will get on board. Eventually. Just as with cloud services, perhaps, the suggestion is that it will take a while, but the business case will eventually compel attention. Not impossible, I’d say, that Chromebooks will appear by the back door – brought in by business users, like the iPad in many companies. Especially when they go on sale on Amazon at compelling prices.

But for the corporate heavyweights, George Colony, CEO of Forrester, has given Chromebook his personal attention and he is not convinced. He’s looked for the business agenda at Google as well as the technology: they gain leverage (advertising) from increasing use of online services. Processing power gets more powerful and cheaper faster than networks, so the Chromebook’s 8-second bootup time and fast response may be less of an advantage than Google aver. And, of course, no senior executive is going to do symposium demonstrations with large files so the demos, as you can see from the video, were indeed impressively fast.

No take (blog or mainstream) from Gartner. There’s an interesting broader comment from Andrew Frank about Google’s branding strategy, particularly with regard to Chrome. Otherwise, there seems to be remarkably little in the mainstream analyst community. In Tier 2, Red Monk comments particularly on the “Tablet as a Service” aspect of Google’s announcement: the idea that users will lease a Chromebook, getting a new one every three years just like a leased car. This went along with the push that, unlike most personal machines, a Chromebook won’t deteriorate over time. No locally stored stuff, so no hard disk fragmentation, crashes or issues. No software clashes. No malware protection, to slow things down. Just continual updates as Google improves the ChromeOS experience, so in fact (so the pitch went) this computer actually gets better, not worse, over time.

The lease option is also picked up in another short Forrester blog, for sourcing professionals: this cautions potential leasers to consider the possible unstated negatives (and positives), such as support costs in the enterprise, and inability to run the existing software portfolio – against which, in the long run, the downloadable app model might work out cheaper. Might. One feature, though, which will attract: the online model (nothing on the local device) clearly will ease enterprise management.

So the most authoritative comment so far is Forrester’s. Forrester believes in a synergy between web services and powerful local processing, and George Colony is sceptical about the Chromebook’s ability to steal mindshare from the iPad.

Time will tell.

• Google Chrome: Day 2 Keynote from Google I/O, Google I/O, 11 May 2011: video replay, for Chromebook pick up at around 38 minutes
• While IT pros scoff, Google Chromebooks will likely seduce businesses, Jason Hiner, Tech Republic, 12 May 2011
• Google Chromebook: Business Model By Ideology, Counterintuitive CEO (George Colony), 16 May 2011
• The Embattled Google Brand, Andrew Frank, Gartner blog, 13 May 2011
• Chromebook/Notebook/Tablet As A Service. On Google Competing With IBM Global Finance, James Governor, Red Monk, undated but probably 13 May 2011
• Do $28/Month Laptops Really Exist?, Clarence Villanueva, Forrester blog, 13 May 2011

LinkedIn IPO goes through the ceiling

Several years ago now, on a Study Tour led by the Leading Edge Forum, I visited LinkedIn in Silicon Valley. Still very much in the startup phase, twenty or more of us were crammed into a small meeting room with the archetypal drinks machine in the corner.

The connectedness of the human community was one of the tech vogues at that time: apparently no two people on the planet are more than six relationships away from each other. LinkedIn explicitly capitalises on the those links between business people. And we also visited Six Apart, at the time a leader among blogging platforms: their story was that Six Apart wasn’t intended to refer to that connectedness; but it worked as an idea anyway.

I’d come across LinkedIn and been sceptical. But hearing the story at first hand, it made sense and I’ve been a LinkedIn user ever since (I’m a First Million member in the UK). Explicitly professional, LinkedIn builds not just on the connectedness of individuals but on the network of trust that’s implicit in personal relationships. LinkedIn holds much of my professional network, and although I’m still only a free-service member I’ve been able to use it for real, useful business – not just finding out about individuals whose names I come across in various contexts, but locating experts in particular topics and making new useful connections; using group memberships to develop both my knowledge and my influence, and so on. It’s a mass-market tool, but explicitly for business use; the genius is in the blend of those two aspects.

If we were unsure about one thing on that visit, it was the financial model. How could something whose primary business was a free service, offered to millions of people and therefore needing substantial infrastructure investment, make money? The founders had their answer and, though it’s taken a long while, they’ve been proved right. Critical mass, built on the free service, enables premium members (paying customers) to research more deeply, develop a wider range of contacts, and undertake some population analyses. It’s become a standard business question: Are you on LinkedIn?

There are other similar services, of course. I’m registered on a couple of them (Plaxo and Naymz) but don’t really see the value in having pretty much the same group of people in my network in more than one place. So I’m a passive member there, but an active one on LinkedIn.

Well, the company finally went public. And the mark-up on the IPO price has been substantial, to the point that commentators are wondering whether this is the start of the next tech-led stock market bubble, and what it might presage for Facebook if/when it follows suite. Maybe it even makes Microsoft’s valuation of Skype less out on a limb.

Good luck to them!

• About LinkedIn
• LinkedIn Corporation prices initial public offering, LinkedIn Press Release, 18 May 2011
• LinkedIn value bubbles up, The Guardian, 19 May 2011
• LinkedIn’s wild ride prompts puzzlement, raises expectations, Computerworld, 19 May 2011
• Here’s my LinkedIn profile

Six Apart

Microsoft and Skype: (2)

With a little more time, here are a few connected thoughts after yesterday’s note. And a sideline on the response from the analyst community.

It’s fair to say that opinions are many and varied about Microsoft’s acquisition. There are some along the lines of “Why would they do that?” of course – mostly from commentators who’ve looked at the multiplier between Skype’s income stream and Microsoft’s bid, or at eBay’s failure to integrate Skype into their business model. But the positive comments are broadly in three groups.

1 – the purely business commentary. Skype’s business (and remember they were on their third owner already) is in person-to-person communications. Skype was developing its IPO to go public. Microsoft are way behind in this space, losing ground to both Apple and Google (think iPhone and Android), and Cisco would also be a contender. In these terms, Microsoft’s bid is a necessary pre-emptive strike and the price reflects the potential impact to Microsoft’s business of Skype in someone else’s portfolio.

2 – the consumer space commentary. Following on from the above: Skype is a well known and widely used consumer brand; it’s a verb, like Google. Microsoft struggles here, even with Windows Live and Office 365 up and running. It has no significant presence in the realtime person-to-person space. Skype can give it that presence, and link Skype’s massive consumer base into that space. On the other side of the coin, Skype doesn’t make money; its brand image is as a free service and its income stream is via breakouts to the public phone networks and on some business-side services. Microsoft’s marketing capabilities stand a chance of creating profitable business streams there. There’s also speculation (supported by the press announcement) about developing Skype channels over Microsoft’s XBox and Kinect gaming.

3 – the enterprise user commentary. Skype is used for business but often only (as Forrester’s Ted Schadler puts it) if “IT looks the other way”. Microsoft’s business footprint could change that, either directly or through gateways to Microsoft’s existing in-enterprise Lync service. Also, Microsoft gains access to the some leading technologies which could significantly enhance its enterprise offerings.

It’s well worth reading the press release to see where Microsoft believes the link-up can lead. It’s clearly big, in their estimation, because Skype will become a business division in Microsoft.

Commentary on this announcement is developing and maturing. There’s nothing on Gartner’s blogs yet, but Forrester have pitched in with different (and sometimes contradictory) blogs from several analysts and for different sections of their readership. Horizon Watching has linked to an Economist article. The Guardian (Technology section) collects some brief comments from the senior analyst community (Gartner, Ovum and others).

• Microsoft to acquire Skype, Skype press release, 10 May 2011; also available from Microsoft Press Pass
• Ballmer’s Masterstroke In Buying Skype, Mike Galtieri, Forrester blog (for application professionals), 11 May 2011
• What Microsoft’s Skype Deal Means, Ted Schadler, Forrester blog (content and collaboration), 10 May 2011
• Microsoft Acquires Skype – What Is It Really Worth? Henry Dewing, Forrester blog (vendor strategy), 10 May 2011
• Skype-Microsoft deal: the experts’ view, Guardian Technology, 10 May 2011

Link added later: some useful commentary from Tech Republic
Does the Skype acquisition signal a new risk-taking market-making Microsoft?, Debra Littlejohn Shinder, Tech Republic, 17 May 2011

Microsoft and Skype

Just an immediate place holder because, as it happens, I won’t have chance to properly research the topic for another day or so.

Skype has never made a profit (apparently), but Microsoft has thought it’s worth $8bn to acquire it from its third set of owners so far (founders, then eBay, then private investors, now Microsoft).

At first sight it doesn’t seem a brilliant fit. But is Skype the next generation of windows Messenger? Here are some questions that I haven’t yet got time to find the answers for:

  • what does this tell us about Microsoft’s cloud services strategy for both consumers and business users?
  • is Skype about to go Microsoft proprietary?
  • is Skype about to become far more acceptable in the corporate space?
  • will Skype consumer services continue to be free and cross-platform?

More later, when I’ve time to research. In the meantime, read the Guardian’s report here (10th May 2011)