If I Had $4 Billion: Part Two

First published September 15, 2005 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

If you were Google, you had access to $4 billion in cash, and you were taking on Microsoft on their home turf, what would you do?

That was the question I posed to you two weeks ago. Thanks to the many who replied. After sorting through the self-serving e-mails from various CEO’s suggesting that Google should buy their companies, there were some very interesting strategies put forth. Let’s see if they’re listening in Mountain View.

First of all, many of you zeroed in on the operating system as the core of Google’s strategy. Jim Barkow offers up GoOSe..the Google OS: “At the core to their (Google’s) search platform is a very quick file system that was first developed when they couldn’t find one in the market (Linux, MS, etc.) that was fast enough. Interesting that after a long promise, Microsoft supposedly abandoned their plans to ‘upgrade’ their file system for Longhorn and Vista.”

Ironically, on the same day the original column ran, Brooke Dixon pointed me to a post on Gizmodo showing a screen shot of a bare bones Google OS based on GNU/Linux. It would come in three versions: corporate, embedded, and portable. It would allow users to boot and use a stripped-down OS that does what Google does best–manage files.

LionVision joined the chorus with Glinux (or Googlix), offered for a pretty compelling price point. “So Google could GIVE AWAY FOR FREE an OS as well-groomed and clean as apple OSX with all the new cutting edge apps integrated at the OS level. IM and VOIP and Email and Search working from the very roots.”

The Kelsey Group’s own VSG (Very Smart Guy), Greg Sterling, pointed me to a post by Robert Young titled “Google, the Ultimate Deflator” that follows the same reasoning–making the Microsoft OS superfluous by migrating users to an integrated set of Web apps.

Hmmm…an Internet appliance that relies on the computing horsepower of a Web server to do the heavy lifting?

That sounds familiar.

As many pointed out, several have been down this path before, including Oracle’s Larry Ellison and Sun Microsystems. In fact, if memory serves, Microsoft has also been down the road, and put several million into Web appliances and Web-based application service provider technology. Perhaps with broadband proliferation, the idea’s time has finally come.

If this is the case, expect to see some of that $4 billion spent acquiring technology that could create a suite of online apps that would form the foundation of Google’s total solution. Simon Collins suggested likely targets could be contact minders like Plaxo or Linked In, then possibly extending to online data storage, giving users the alternative of a virtual desktop.

Both Nikos Pharmakidis and Andre Morgantetti suggested that Google should take the logical next step down this road and bundle a stripped-down OS and a computer and sell it at a rock bottom price. It’s the cell phone approach to market control. Give away the hardware and make your margins on monthly service fees.

The problem with Google going head to head with Microsoft for the OS is that you’re attacking the Giant right where he lives, so expect a long and heated battle. Others have tried for many years now–and at last count, Apple and Linux combined have managed to capture less than 10 percent of the OS market share. If I was Google and this was my strategy, I wouldn’t be thrilled with my odds. It’s also heavily dependent on users adopting a new way of doing things, so there’s a king-sized chasm to cross.

By the way, speaking of Apple, a few thought Steve Jobs, Larry Page, and Sergei Brin would make an interesting threesome. John Nesbit offered this bold prediction: “Google uses their cash to buy Apple–they are culturally similar in their approach to problems–and then with the new Intel chips that run the Apple OS due out next year they launch a new OS called ‘GO’–Google Operating System”.”

Other readers suggested that rather than attacking Microsoft where they’re dominant, you hit where they’re not the 800-pound gorilla. For example, mobile computing. Shaun Abrahamson says: “Mobile is probably one area where Uncle Bill is not dominant and this might be the place to take the fight, for the next gen of much more dependent users who have devices with them all the time.”

John Reilly sees Google’s battleground shaping up in super MP3 players. “Think of it this way. If you’re an iPod user, wouldn’t adding wireless search, social networking, and other communication functionality be spectacular?

And for Google (and its advertisers), what better way to bring ads and awareness to an already engaged audience?”

Toren Ajk agrees: “We have just begun to tap into the power of devices such as cell phones, MP3 players, game consoles, Tivos, etc. These are no longer business-originated activities (the area Microsoft has chosen to dominate). Entertainment is the primary function of these devices, be it active communication or passive absorption. This is a fundamental shift which makes access the key choke point. These devices don’t need to run through Windows in order to deliver their value, entertainment, to the end user.”

And, as Toren points out, if access is the new choke point, then other recent Google acquisitions may hold the key to their strategy. Pete Neumann warns: “What should be keeping us all awake at night is the fact that Google is buying up the secondary choke points–the onramps to the Internet: dark fiber, wireless networks, broadband over powerline (ConCurrent).”

Roy Moskowitz envisions a low-cost wireless broadband service, bundled with a Google-branded browser. “$1.00 a day and $10 a month for the privilege of being served ads on the Google browser when we connect sounds about right for the service. In contrast, T-mobile charges Starbucks customers $10 for an hour that must be used the same day.”

A few mentioned Google’s interest in NeoMedia as a clue. Their Paperclick technology uses handheld devices to link the world around you to the online world. Capture a barcode or quickly enter a word you see on a product box, billboard, or in-store display, and you’re suddenly linked to a Web site where you can purchase, register, get a rebate or watch a product demonstration.

Jim Barkow, who has friends deeply embedded in Google’s Mountain View brain trust, offers this advice: “Google has an army of the most talented, dedicated, and focused engineers around–and have spent the last few years making sure it was that way. Without a doubt, what they’ve launched so far is not the real goods of what they’ve been working on for the past two years.”

When it’s all said and done, perhaps Terry Weakly should have the last word. “Cash it in and go home…to a really nice home! Let someone else slug it out with Microsloth.”

I’m sure you’d have some takers in the Googleplex Terry, but getting the approval of Google shareholders might be an issue.

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