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Internet operating system may be in Googles's sites

Source: Timesofoman.com


Is Google Inc. quietly arming itself to challenge Microsoft Corp.’s Windows software by developing an operating system that lives on the Internet?

The closely held search-engine company has been clear all along about its goal of organising the world’s information.

But followers of the Mountain View, California, upstart have been seeing that lofty mission statement in a new light since the company unveiled plans this month for a free e-mail service with enough storage space to save nearly 500,000 pages of messages.

The Gmail service, combined with Google’s enormous cluster of computers that use Linux, a free operating system, to process hundreds of millions of search queries each day, has some technologists panting over what the ambitious company may do next.

"Who needs Windows when anyone can have free unlimited access to the world’s fastest computer running the smartest operating system?" Jason Kottke, a New York City web designer, wrote in his influential web log at Kottke.org.

Google executives declined to comment on their plans. We don’t speculate about what we may or may not be thinking about in terms of projects, said Craig Silverstein, the company’s director of technology.

By all accounts, Google isn’t openly gunning for Microsoft. Netscape Communications Corp., whose web browser threatened Windows, made that mistake in the late 1990s and got smothered by Microsoft tactics that a federal judge later found violated antitrust laws.

Google however, has been quietly building one of the world’s largest supercomputers, reportedly made of more than 100,000 servers tied together by Linux. The computing system is becoming a powerful platform that could be put to a variety of uses beyond powering the most popular search engine on the web.

I wouldn’t underestimate the audacity of any of the goals the Google guys have, said Rich Skrenta, chief executive of a search engine for news called Topix.net. They’re big thinkers.

Google has already expanded its offerings to include news aggregation, comparison shopping, software for publishing web logs, a social networking service called Orkut, and now Gmail.

Many believe Google’s next step will be to use its unmatched processing and storage capacity to invite people to house things on Google’s network that they normally keep on their computer desktops, such as documents, digital photos, spreadsheets and songs. All those files would be accessible from any Internet-connected device and easily searchable using the technology that made Google famous.

That could mean trouble for Microsoft. The more you can do on the Internet, the less important your PC becomes. Gates has been worrying about the Internet making Windows less relevant since 1995.

It may be that what’s on the Internet is much more important than what’s on the desktop, said Eric Brewer, a computer science professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-founder of Inktomi, the search engine company acquired by Yahoo Inc.

Microsoft executives declined to comment on the threat from Google or on plans of its own.

Marc Andreessen, a Netscape co-founder who serves as chairman of Opsware Inc., figures Google will boost its offering of free online storage in the next few years from 1 gigabyte for Gmail to as much as 100 gigabytes for people to access their files from any Internet-connected device.

It’s very logical to think Google will add these kinds of capabilities, he said.

Others believe Google may go further. John Battelle, a co-founder of Wired magazine who is writing a book on Internet searching, said he could envision a Google word processor that comes with the Google toolbar for Internet browsers. Documents could be stored on Google’s servers, which would allow writers to query Bartlett’s Quotations, Dictionary.com and other sites while they type.

Kottke and Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch, said Google should even be thinking about selling a Google PC. It could run a version of Linux with Google’s search technology built in and include an open-source alternative to the Microsoft Office suite of business software. After all, they note, Google already sells a server computer, the Google Search Appliance, that lets companies search their internal or public websites.

Just because Google could feasibly market its own computer or desktop software, of course, doesn’t mean it will. In part, the decision depends on the success or failure of Gmail. Google plans to pay for the free e-mail storage by scanning messages, then displaying an ad related to the contents. Privacy advocates have criticised the practice, and it remains to be seen whether consumers will accept it.

If Google executives intend to expand their online offerings or get into the PC business, it wouldn’t be wise for them to say so and risk baiting the world’s most powerful software company. If they had made that decision, it’s entirely in their best interest not to tell anybody, Battelle said.

But such a strategy could be an effective way to counter Microsoft before the Redmond, Washington, goliath strikes at Google. Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has vowed to best Google by building a search engine. If it were built directly into the PC desktop, searchers could find information without having to open an Internet browser and launch the Google home page.

I’m sure the strategic wheels are turning overtime in Redmond, Battelle said.

They should be, some observers say. Google is a potentially formidable foe precisely because it doesn’t compete in Microsoft’s traditional markets.

Microsoft executives are in a position to understand that better than anyone  the software company loosened IBM Corp.’s grip on the computer business by recognising that power rested in controlling PC operating system, not in building computers, said Tim O’Reilly, a publisher of technical books. That’s one of (Google’s) powerful secret weapons  they’re not playing by the same rules, he said. - LA Times-Washington Post

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APR. 19,  ISSUE #014
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