Staying Behind Closed Doors

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This post is in response to the one I read on Computer World. You might want to take a look at it, ’cause the idea to write this originated on reading this.

The only reason why Google is pushing for open source standards and formats alone is because its business model is completely different from that of Adobe, Apple or Microsoft. Google’s main source of revenue is CONTEXTUAL ADVERTISING. So, it makes sense for them to invest in open source technologies and spreading their adoption among content developers/ distributors. And if this happens which kind of seems likely, Google, with its bunch of amazing computer scientists and proprietary search algorithms, will be the most powerful company in the IT space. Proprietary and patent protected formats and publishing standards are the only that can rain on its parade. Though proprietary media streaming formats and web application frameworks like that of Quicktime from Apple, Flash from Adobe and Silverlight from Microsoft are not as easily adopted as the open source frameworks, their value is deeply rooted in their paid license (though lately, Google has managed to push these otherwise closed companies to create more open standards compliant frameworks) as they fend off other companies, from monetizing their content. Google happens to be one of those companies that thrives off your content, though not intentionally and with a fair disclosure, but it just happens to be. Google roots for open source because it enables easy access to your content for building more intelligent advertising solutions which means more money for the company.

We can love Google for all its openness, and free tools viz., Blogger, Groups, Sites and a score of others but we shouldn’t despise Microsoft, or Apple for their closed systems. The only reason why Google is lobbying for an Open Web because they are more aptly positioned to reap the direct benefits of an open web while these other companies are not. Now, holding Google on a pedestal and scoffing at Microsoft doesn’t seem all that right to me. Microsoft has created incredible value for many of us, for years. With its suite of products/services it enabled us to be in charge of our creations, albeit for a fee. These companies never wanted access to our data. They provided the tools, the OS, the productivity suite, and got out of the way. None of the online publishing tools that are available for free (the most popular ones being from Google, others being ZoHo, Evernote, and so many others), are as powerful as Microsoft’s or Adobe’s Desktop applications.

We probably don’t realize this now but Google’s gimmicks at open sourcing its technologies have a much greater potential of disrupting the worldwide IT business. Imagine a decade later when all content is created using open source formats and there is no one accountable for security, or performance of content. Yes, there will be support communities and companies providing managed services for your content but their liability would be limited to their service. They would never be accountable for a bug in an open source software. You won’t be able to reclaim your losses for failed protection OR file a lawsuit against.

Google probably realized it early that knowledge is power. And invested heavily and patiently (Google waited 5 years to let YouTube pick up before monetizing it with ads) in building services for free that would attract creation of content to which it can freely access. Clearly, the Contextual Advertising based revenue model requires Google to have access to as much content as possible. Though it sounds a little evil and conniving, Google has been open about it all the time. In a recent interview Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google Inc., very frankly admitted that information is power. I thought a little about it and realized that Google not only has most liberal access to the world’s information but also the tools and talent to create knowledge out of it. And it is this knowledge that will hurl Google decades ahead of every other IT company. Underlying its aggressive diversification into areas as unrelated as Energy and Cable Networks I see Google’s infinite hunger for information it can turn to power.

For the same reason, it kind of makes me feel that Google is the only company working in the Information Technology space while others just, well, seem like Technology companies. So, should we be feared now with Google in charge of our email, discussions, and ideas? I am sure that our content is more secure with Google than with us, just like our money is more secure in a Bank than with us and we shouldn’t be paranoid. In fact, I have a few domains hosted with Google Apps myself. However lately I have begun to realize the importance of  being in control over the virtue of ease of use and managed services which are so well-integrated within Google’s products. I also appreciate intelligent advertisements from Adsense but sometimes feel like there’s got to be a plug that I can pull when I want. Now I can see why some organizations, choose Omniture over Google Analytics, WordPress over Blogger, Cisco over Google Wave OR Microsoft Exchange over Google Apps. It’s now clear to me that not all businesses are the same. And many if not all of them choose against Google to preserve control over the information that they create.

For all its openness Google will never open up its proprietary search algorithms for content publishers, however, it will always have access to our content because we adopted the open standards Google endorsed . So, those who think Google is more open than Microsoft, think again. No company can open up the secret to their core competency, and Google’s core competency lies in its search algorithms just like Microsoft’s lies in its source code for Windows or Office. I hope I am not the only one to see this but imagine what would happen if the open formats endorsed by Google (such as VP8 for online video encoding and streaming, please note that it is still a contention, Google hasn’t officially announced opening the format) are universally adopted. Of course, Google itself will become the fiercest competitor for all online business owners because it would be better positioned to make money from our content than ourselves. Google being the gates through which information will flow on the internet, there would be no competition left, may be Face Book which is another company pushing for open web as it is privy not only to information we create but our entire life streams.

The opening up of formats and relying on open source technologies is good so far as when our business is as open, i.e., the revenues are either based on sponsorships or affiliate commissions. For businesses who make money from actually selling their services/ products to customers who demand them, going open is not a suitable option. They are better off with by paying for a scalable but closed system of software and formats.

Considering the amount of power that resides with companies like Google and FaceBook, I have come to appreciate the importance of staying behind closed doors and acknowledge the value provided by closed systems. Maybe the web should not be so open after all.

I wish Microsoft could innovate more!

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Wow, this new text-editor (Q10) seems nifty and I am thrilled to have found it. Finally, I found something to write on without getting distracted. I just wish this kind of a functionality could be built in MS-Word. This is so handy. I wish people at Microsoft could be more involved with the environment. Microsoft is trying hard to listen to the users but that is the problem, when you are the biggest of all, you often prefer everything organized including customer feedback. However feedback from users is not the only thing they should care about. They should also care about what else their customers are using. Here is a piece of software (Q10) that people are downloading everyday, when they already have its big brother, MS-Word. Doesn’t Microsoft ever bother to find out what other similar softwares people are looking for when they are the leading provider in that software niche. Clearly, people are not looking for a new software as much as they are looking for a feature. When they don’t find that feature, they go on to try new softwares and then they realize that they don’t use that expensive software from Microsoft so much and it’s an ol’ piece of junk lying about in the garage. Frankly, people would be happy to live in the Stone Age if they would only be able to focus on what they wanted to do.

Now, how many times does a writer bother editing font, colour or using the extra formatting features bundled with a word editor? I recall reading on some MVP’s blog that Microsoft spent a lot of dollars in figuring out the needs of law firms and then built the ‘Styles’ feature in Word. This feature is so useful, that I can’t even think of using any other Word editor provided I am an organization in need of standardizing documents. Now, the Ribbon interface is cool, very intuitive but this piece of innovation does not make as great an impact as the ‘Styles’. How many times have you wanted to just throw open the editor and compose a blog post or an essay without thinking about its appearance (formatting). I know there is ‘Live Writer’ but think about it – when you paid for the most powerful Word editor in the whole world, would you really want to download and use a scaled down clone. Why can’t Microsoft just build the functionality of Live Writer in MS-Word and offer it as a free plug-in. This might even help Microsoft marginally increase the sales of MS-Word.

From the unprecedented success of App store, I have learned and now come to believe that people who use technology are not looking for a standalone, do-it-all, multi-functional software but something very objective, you know, something that just works and get things done. They might be kicked into excitement with all the cool features Microsoft built into Word 2010 but when they find out that they can barely use all of its features they won’t be so pleased.

I strongly feel that as users of technology our primary focus is always on getting things done (GTD) rather than being stoked over all the cool features of an application. Can’t Microsoft sense this? The dynamics of this industry have changed. I mean it’s everywhere – take twitter. There could not be a simpler communication tool. And the reason it became so big – it just works. If I have something to say (tweet) to anyone who cares to listen (followers), I have got to use twitter. And now there is probably a hundred companies built around twitter. When did Microsoft last make such a radical product? I have a lot of respect for the company that Mr. Gates has built over last two decades, but as the giant grew, it separated itself from the common masses. And the only approach that I think, can make Microsoft a favorite among us again is listening to what people WANT to use and then building it the way they CAN use it.

That’s all I got to say. What do you think?

P.S – this post was composed in Q10, a text-editor for writers. I did not run spell-checks and use other features to format this post to just see how productive I am when I am focused on writing rather than formatting.