In the 70's and 80's, one of the most famous cliche's for IT professionals was "No one ever got fired for buying IBM." Eventually, the same could be said for Microsoft. Two days ago however, given how pretty much none of Google's applications could work unless Internet connectivity was functioning (something that isn't always a given), buying Google instead of Microsoft (or IBM) was clearly a risky move if you wanted to keep your job. Now however, as of Wednesday's Google Gears announcement, it appears as though some of that risk is on course to be mitigated.
But enough to cause businesses and enterprises to reconsider their IT strategies?
That was the subject of today's MonkCast with Redmonk's James Governor and his co-founder/partner Stephen O'Grady. O'Grady's perspective is particularly relevant given his expertise in open source (Google released the technology under what he refers to as a "very permissive" BSD open source license).
Google Gears is a technology that developers of Web-based applications (eg: a Web mail app like Yahoo Mail, or something like Salesforce.com) can use to make sure that Web applications and the data they need access to remain accessible, even when no connection to a network is available. Normally, loss or absence of network connectivity will cause Web-based apps to fail. Given its developer orientation, Google Gears is not the sort of thing that end-users can simply plug into their existing Web apps. Since the developers of those apps are the ones who must bake the functionality into their wares, it may be a while before a significant base of existing Web apps is enabled for such offline access.
Even though Google has been working on the technology for a while, so far, Gears can only be found in one of Google's Web-based apps: Goolge Reader (Google's browser-based RSS reader). It may take some time before other Google applications such as Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets are enabled with the tech. Tactically, O'Grady points out in the podcast, Gears won't make of a difference. But strategically, we all agreed that Microsoft grip on the desktop applications market may one day be loosened if it doesn't respond in kind. O'Grady also points out that if there's one guy who knows how to answer Google's threat, Microsoft is fortunate enough to have him on its payroll: Ray Ozzie. Google Gears is as much about synchronization as it is about working offline (the two go hand in hand) and going back to his days with Lotus, Ozzie is the king of synch, bar none.
Going back to the discussion of how far Web apps (or Google Apps) must go before "IT pros won't get fired for buying them," I zeroed in a four criteria that, when taken in concert togther, could be enough to merit the sort of attention that would be needed before businesses and enterprises might be willing to switch away from their existing desktop solutions (Microsoft or otherwise). They are:
- The right functionality
- The right total cost of ownership (including ease of deployment)
- The right reliability
- And a single throat to choke if something goes wrong
The success of Salesforce.com is actually proof that enterprises are ready to endure some of the shortcomings of going with Web apps (namely, the offline problem). Google's applications (and those of other Web app providers) may not be as the mature apps that have been in the market for more than two decades, but it's not a function of if (if the products have the same rich functionality). It's a question of when. With Google Gears in place, reliability could finally meet functionality. Where the two are offered at dramatically different economics than anything they compete with and there's a single phone number to dial if there's a problem, CFOs can't not force their IT counterparts to take a closer and harder look.