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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Google Era of Computing

The CEO of online office Google Docs competitor Zoho, Sridhar Vembu, regularly sends out interesting thoughts from the Zoho blog for others to republish. Below is a partial (partly snipped) reposting of his latest musing; you can find the full text (titled “IBM, Microsoft & Google Eras of Computing”) from May 2nd over there.

By now it is conventional wisdom to say that there was an IBM Era of computing, then a Microsoft Era, and now we are in the Google Era. In this post, I will explain why Microsoft was not the “next IBM” and why Google is not the “next Microsoft” – there are significant qualitative differences among them, quite apart from their status as the dominant, era-defining players.

The original IBM mainframe era (in contrast to today’s IBM) was one of the highly closed systems. IBM was not just the dominant player of the era, IBM was pretty much the entire ecosystem. There just wasn’t a lot of room for third parties to play in. Third parties were marginalized companies surviving on IBM’s sufferance or professional services companies (like EDS) or were providers of cheap replacement parts, which felt vaguely dirty, borderline legal (consider today’s third party print cartridge situation as an analogy).

In contrast to IBM, Microsoft was far more open, which indeed was the original reason for their success. Microsoft unleashed what I would call the semi-open era of computing. The acronym ISV (independent software vendor) came into its own during the Microsoft era. Indeed, Microsoft encouraged ISVs provided fairly good support – up to a point. The defining test for Microsoft was Netscape, the most prominent ISV that got on the wrong side of Microsoft. Microsoft failed the test by winning; their victory over Netscape forever established their reputation in the industry, a reputation that finds its echo in Yahoo’s cultural resistance to being assimilated.

Now, the present Google era. Google has the genetic and cultural advantage of being born in an open source world, with a business model that is aligned with rather than antagonistic to open source. It reflects in how they conduct their ecosystem initiatives. Google Gears comes with one of the most liberal open source licenses (BSD license), and we at Zoho particularly appreciate the support provided by Google’s open source teams. In our extensive interaction with them, we could tell how they truly get the value of openness. That openness is going to be the underpinning of the Google era of computing – I hope they never forget that!


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