Google Chrome OS: A lot to do about Nothing

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Google is known for doing many things right. Despite giving them a hard time over the years, it’s undeniable that my life still revolves, in a very real way, around Google products. I use Gmail not only for, er, Gmail but I use Google Apps to run all my email services including my public aaron@technosailor.com email.

Likewise, my analytics for this and other sites is Google Analytics (for those scared by big words, analytics is how I measure traffic and visitor interaction on the site). This blog, which is powered by WordPress, implements Google Gears to speed up transactions on the backend and Gears is used also to provide offline support to Google apps I run.

Google Search probably will never be replaced by Bing in my world.

My BlackBerry has a Gmail app and Google Maps, both of which I find to be imperative. Likewise, I use Google Talk for IM and I have apps for that on both my BlackBerry as well as my iPod Touch (The Jesus phone without the Great Satan called AT&T).

In other words, try as I might, I can’t not love Google for so many things.

Yet… I just can’t get excited about the announcement in recent days that Google is coming out with a new operating system, expected in 2010, that will be based on it’s Google Chrome browser (which I don’t use because it’s Windows only).
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For all that Google has done right, they completely just insulted us and most of us haven’t even figured it out yet. We’re all caught up in Shiny Object Syndrome, the likes of which are similar to Applegasms surrounding a new “Our Father who Art in Cupertino” product launch. We’re just not thinking straight.

Here’s why.

Google Chrome is a Browser. While it’s a powerful browser, it is simply a browser. It cannot run applications. It cannot mangle CPU cycles, assign process IDs to other applications, or control memory allocation for an entire computer. It’s not built that way. It’s built to be a browser.

The evidence that Google knows this (and Fake Steve Jobs does a nice job of pointing out why Operating Systems take 20 years to build right) is that it plans to use a Linux kernel. There you have it. A Linux kernel.

Ah ha, you might say. Linux has been proven to be an exceptional embedded operating system over the years, and with that, I’ll agree with you. It makes perfect sense why Google would build their new operating system on Linux. It’s proven its ability over the years to be an operating system for many devices, computer and non-computer alike. Why change now. God, those kids are smart over at Google.

Here’s the thing… All of the technology pundits, and Google themselves, are calling it a new operating system… when it’s far from it.

In fact, Google should be calling it a new Desktop Manager similar to KDE, Gnome or, heck, even the desktop manager app that’s built on Open BSD for the Mac OS X software. The operating system is Linux. For what it’s worth, Mac OS X should probably be called a Desktop Manager software too because it’s built on BSD, a Unix variant.

There is nothing about an upcoming Google Chrome OS that can operate a system. Not within a year. That’s why they are using Linux.

I love Google, but folks need to step back and be a little objective. I mean, just a little.

How Location Based Services Saved My Life

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Sitting here in Automattic offices in San Francisco, I find myself lovingly caressing my Blackberry which, for a short time yesterday, I believed was separated from me for good. Turns out I lost it the night before and was having phantom spasms over not having it in my pocket to check email, twitter or do other activities I would normally engage in with my long-time partner and friend.

As I arose from my grogginess yesterday morning, my first instinct was to reach for my Blackberry to ascertain important overnight occurrences. You know, such as what drunken text messages I might have sent or had sent to me, what the final score was on the Red Sox game or who was talking about me on Twitter. It’s a hard habit to break so when I realized my phone was nowhere to be found, I panicked.

Then I remembered Google Latitude, the new mostly useless location based service announced earlier this year. Google Latitude has a small piece of software that can be installed on [supported] phones. It uses GPS or cell tower triangulation to pinpoint the location of a person. As I’m a Verizon Wireless customer, the only option I have is cell tower triangulation. So I can be pinpointed to an area.
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In a stroke of brilliant genius, I logged onto Google Latitude from my computer in the hotel. There were only so many places the phone could be. The last place I wanted to see it was in the back seat of the cab that had given me a ride home the previous night.

Fortunately, I was pinpointed (inaccurately because it was more my phone was pinpointed in Fisherman’s Wharf at the In n Out Burger that I had enjoyed a west coast delicacy the night before. I thought.

Fortunately, upon arrival at the In n Out Burger, the store manager did indeed have my Blackberry and I was able to carry on with my life.

This is a great example of how location based services can actually be useful. Instead of simply inviting the stalkerati or providing an unnecessary window into the life of the user, it is a good way for employees or assets to be tracked inexpensively. If you run a courier service, company-issued phones with Google Latitude might be a handy way to streamline your business operations.

Google Latitude is not the only “homing beacon” service out there. Tomorrow, with the launch of the iPhone 3G S, Apple is also introducing “Find my iPhone” with MobileMe which will pinpoint the location of a lost or stolen iPhone. Clearly a different benefit to the argument of value surrounding location based services

Changing the Currency of Influence via Search

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There is no doubt that Google is the king of search but how did they become that way? In the old days (you know, before PageRank was dubbed irrelevant), the idea was that the number of links to a site, particularly by more “powerful” sites increased the relevance of an indexed page in the Google index. To this day, that philosophy holds, tho clearly the weight has shifted from “links of powerful sites” to “internal links”.

Google has not significantly adjusted how they determine the importance of an article, site or keyword in some time, tho they claim some 70+ algorithmic tweaks last year. And that’s fine. Google’s index is Google’s index. It has trained us how to search and what we expect when we search. It has taught us silently and we compare all other results to the Google results, despite the fact that Google results are in themselves arbitrary and based on their own determination via algorithm.

But I digress.

It’s interesting when new search engines or tools come out. It’s interesting to see the innovation as it takes place. One such tool that I discovered, almost by accident, does a good great job of building an index around links and pages passed around Twitter. This tool is Topsy, which combines Twitter Search with Google like results (in other words, the results are not tweets themselves).

For those of you not occupying your every waking moment on Twitter, it is by most objective measures, the new information aggregator – like RSS readers were supposed to be or portal sites try to be.

The currency of influence on Twitter can be summarized in two letters: RT (short for Retweet). Many bloggers are including the ability for stories to be “retweeted”, or redistributed on Twitter, and that is precisely what Topsy is measuring. (An example of retweeting capability on a blog can be seen on this blog – see that Retweet button at the end of the article?)

Much like Google set the currency of relevance based on links, an assumption that was valid at the time and still carries some level of validity today, Topsy has recognized that more influence is being distributed via Twitter and thus, a relevancy algorithm around this currency must be built.
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I don’t know if Topsy is a “Google killer” or even if they strive to be one. My guess is, it will never supplant Google in our lives. However, an ambitious approach to this new distribution of influence is an important, and enjoyable, thing to watch.