Tag Archives: Google

Surprise, there really is a Google Phone, Maybe.

Rumors of a Google-branded phone based on their Android OS have kicked up again after a Wall Street Journal article, cited unnamed “people familiar with the matter” confirming the existence of the project.  Latest rumors have the device arriving as early as next year.

What’s most notable is that the rumored Google-phone will launched without a carrier partner, and sold unlocked, which is an unusual approach in the US.   That means no carrier subsidies, which typically knock a couple hundred dollars or so off the price of smartphones.  Many are taking that to mean that the Google phone will be priced like unlocked smartphones are now, which is just ridiculous.

Just as carriers subsidize phones because they plan to make a lot of money locking people into a two-year contract, Google has other revenue streams it can tap if people are using one of its phones.  For a start, its a good bet that they are already paying money out to mobile carriers and device makers in order to make Google the default search and map provider on the iPhone, and other devices.  For a Google-branded phone, that money could instead go to subsidizing the cost of the phone.  That’s just the start, they could also include more-intrusive mobile advertising, though I suspect that isn’t going to be necessary as the mobile ad market grows.

I’m interested to see where this all leads.  Apple managed to pry control away from mobile carriers when it launched the iPhone.  It certainly seems like it will be another step towards loosening the hold mobile carriers, have on users in the US at least.  Of course, this just assumes that there really is going to be a “Google phone,” and that this latest frenzy isn’t just a big hoo-hah over T-Mobile’s next android phone, which is entirely plausible.

Will Google’s New Storage Prices Put Pressure on Amazon S3?

Google  just cut the cost of additional storage for Picasa & Gmail from $20/year for 10GB to $5/year for 20GB, and now you can buy up to 16TB of storage.

This service is targeted at end-users, and it is limited to Photo storage on Picasa, and mail storage for GMail, but people suspect that it will be expanded at some point to provide more general purpose storage, which seems like a no-brainer once ChromeOS is released.

It doesn’t compete directly with Amazon’s S3 cloud-storage, which is mostly targeted at developers, and can store any file, but I have to wonder if Google’s move isn’t going to force Amazon’s hand on storage pricing.  Amazon may not compete directly with Google in this regard, but a lot of Amazon’s customers are, in one way or another.  Google’s old pricing was somewhat higher than Amazon’s, which left developers with room to use Amazon’s storage to compete with Google.  The new Google pricing totally inverts that.

Amazon’s pricing is due for revision anyway.  Cost of raw storage have declined significantly since S3 debuted, and I’m sure Amazon has been able to lower their operating costs significantly as well, but these savings haven’t really been passed along.  They cut their prices somewhat a year or so ago, and instigated a tiered pricing scheme that rewards large customers for growth with declining marginal costs for storing more data, but the new Google pricing takes things to a “whole nother level.”

It’ll be interesting to see whether S3 and other “cloud” storage providers, and the applications that build on them are about to follow suit.


Creating Ubuntu VM Instances on a Ganeti Cluster with VMbuilder

Ganeti is open source software from Google to manage a cluster of linux hosts running virtual machines using the Xen or KVM hypervisors.  I was attracted to it because it handled everything from creating new instances to managing network disk mirroring (via DRBD) to help with instance availability.  It even supports migrating a running instance from one host to another with one short command line.  Now that I have it working, its possible to have a new Ubuntu vm running in about 5 minutes, probably less if I don’t need disk mirroring.

That’s the good part, the bad part is that it is developed to run Debian instances on Debian hosts with the Xen hypervisor.  Ok, that’s not the bad part, the bad part is that even though it works with other linux guests and hosts and the with KVM hypervisor, there are a number of hitches and gaps, even when using the Debian-derviced Ubuntu Linux distribution.  I still need to update an earlier post I made on trying to get it to work on Ubuntu to reflect what I finally did to get things working, but I wanted to share a big piece of the work I did.

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Google’s ChromeOS Doesn’t Have to be Popular to Matter

This week Google confirmed a long running rumor that they were working on their own operating system when they announced their ChromeOS.  Most of the resulting commentary I’ve seen have missed the mark.  A lot of tech journalists and bloggers focused on the Google / Microsoft rivalry.  Dave Weiner found that predictable narrative to be a boring one, and dismissed it for the same reason the journalists seemed to find it interesting, because it was yet another fight between two big tech companies. Ultimately ChromeOS didn’t interest him because the Chrome browser didn’t support his favorite browser extension, a bookmark synchronization tool, and because, being Linux based, it wouldn’t run Frontier, the desktop software he wrote that he uses to develop and run most of his websites. On Slate, Farad Manjoo criticized the move with an article titled “Five Reasons Google’s new Chrome OS is a Bad Idea.

Here is the thing, and it is really simple, Chrome and ChromeOS don’t need to become popular for them to do well by Google, they just have to have influence.

It works like this.  Google benefits when more people use the web more often for more activities. They benefit primarily from increased opportunities for advertising revenue, but also they are getting paid for Google Apps.

More people will use the web more often for more activities as:

  • Web applications offer more and more utility and usability
  • Devices that can access the web become more affordable
  • Internet connectivity becomes cheaper and more widespread

I don’t think ChromeOS helps with internet connectivity, unless it includes easy to use mesh networking, and even then, its not going to make that big a difference, but the effort helps with the other two.

Chrome the browser helps make web applications more useful and easier to use. It has already helped make both performance and robustness a bigger issue in the browser world. Since Chrome published their first performance numbers, both Safari and Firefox have made strong strides of their own on Javascript performance. I’m not saying that WebKit and Firefox weren’t already working on the problem, the speed with which they responded shows they were, but I think the entry of Chrome has helped accelerate the pace of improvement.  Just this week, the Firefox developers let out some news about their work on a multiprocess architecture like Chrome’s to help with stability.

Chrome the OS both helps make web applications more useful. It has the potential to create an environment where web applications work better with each other, and also with local applications and files. By doing so Chrome OS also puts pressure on other OS vendors (ie Apple and Microsoft) to do a better job of supporting web applications as well.

It also gives them away to influence the cost of client operating systems, and, by extension, desktop, notebook and netbook computers. Linux may ultimately be an unpopular choice on netbooks, but its presence helped put pressure on Microsoft to keep selling XP and make it available for netbooks at a lower cost.

It would be a mistake to look at this through the cost issue through lens of the US or Western Europe. This really an issue in the developing markets where computer penetration among “consumers” and small businesses is still quite low.  In those circumstances fewer people think they need to run Office or Photoshop, etc so compatibility with desktop applications isn’t as important as it is to tech journalists and bloggers. These markets represent a huge opportunity for Google’s advertising and also Google Apps. When computer penetration is low, even pushing the price down $20 could lead to a big bump in the number using computers, and that will help drive economies of scale that help make the hardware even cheaper, and network effects that increase the relative value of having a computer.

That all this might hurt Microsoft by putting pressure on their prices and revenues is kind of a bonus.

What is Google AppEngine Good For?

Dare Obasanjao recently asked “Is Google App Engine the wrong product for, the market?” and then tried to answer the question in a blog post.

He concludes, rightly, I think, that it’s certainly the wrong thing for “enterprise developers,” and gives a good rundown of the issues web developers trying to use it now will face in having to deal with its non-relational datastore, and restricted Python centered development environment.

I’m coming at it from a different direction, wondering what Google AppEngine is good for and I see at least two classes of applications:

  1. Small, focused applications that are developed quickly and expected to live hard and die young (lots of traffic for a short amount of time).  Something intended to spread quickly, like a lot of facebook apps or MySpace widgets.  The sort of app that a designer and one or two developers could do in a month or less.  With those sorts of time-frames, building an infrastructure that could scale up and down quickly wouldn’t be hard to justify, even using something like Amazon EC2.
  2. Installable apps with just a few users (like a private Wiki) that wouldn’t justify the expense and upkeep of even a small Virtual Private Server, but which are valuable enough that people wouldn’t want to depend on some startup remaining in business to keep their data available.  If people installed the app on their own AppEngine account, then they could be reasonably sure their data would be accessible even if the original developers abandoned the project.
  3. Installable apps with the potential of spiking to a whole lot of users, like a public blog, etc.  Again, depending on Google for hosting would be easier to swallow than some startup that could vanish.
  4. Federated apps.  Users would control their own data via their own personal installed instance, but would also take advantage of services that create a network of all the installations.  For example, imagine an application that people would invest a significant amount of work in, maybe something like Twitter.  Their personal data would be in their own instance, but it would tie in to a larger Twitter network  for interuser communication, and emergent features, like app-wide search.  If the startup providing the core services went away, the end user would still have all the content entered into their profile, and, potentially, their existing social graph.

Google Insights Bug?

I’ve been playing with Google Insights more and I’ve run into unexpected behavior. I’m not sure if it is because there is a bug, or because it doesn’t work like I think it should.

If I look at searches for “Picnik” for the last 30 days, I see an interesting distribution across several states. If I do the same search for July, I see a similar pattern.

If I instead do a search for multiple date ranges (Jan, April, Jun, July) I get a map (and a table) that shows all the search volume as coming from California. If I use the pulldown they provide to change the time period mapped, the distribution remains the same. Even July shows that all the search volume for “picnik” comes from California.

I tried changing the span of the first time period. It looks like there is a bug, it only displays the results for the first time period, even as you try and switch to new time periods. It’s confusing, because it changes the color coding.

I’m seeing this with the latest version of Firefox 3 on a Mac.