The Google PC...why not?

The Google PC...why not?

Summary: The rumors have been flying around that Google will introduce a low-cost PC sold through mass market retailers like Wal-Mart.  According to the sources-said report from the Los Angeles Times, the PC would run Google's Linux-flavored operating system and be tuned for online services.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Google
12

The rumors have been flying around that Google will introduce a low-cost PC sold through massgooglepc_1.jpg market retailers like Wal-Mart.  According to the sources-said report from the Los Angeles Times, the PC would run Google's Linux-flavored operating system and be tuned for online services. And, it would cost far less than a share of Google. As my colleague David Berlind speculated months ago, a Google PC is not a new or unexpected concept:

It's a network computer with a few extra bells and whistles to support things like Google Talk. It looks feels, and smells like a svelte network computer but has 95 percent of the functionality of the PC that took me where no man should go last week.  It can do everything a business PC can do because, hey, guess what: all our business apps can be SaaSyized anyway. But, at the end of the day, the Google PC (or maybe Yahoo will beat them) isn't much more than what today's cable boxes and cell phones are: remarkably thin clients (given what they do) that are customized to take full advantage of all that service provider has to offer. Oh, and produced in partnership with "the carrier."

larrypage.jpgGoogle co-founder Larry Page is delivering a keynote at  the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Friday afternoon PST (we'll have all the details and video clips from his talk), and according to the LA Times story, he will either reveal the so-called Google PC or announce an agreement with a major retailer to sell such a system.

I speculated last month about an Google Internet appliance of the kind that David describes. A commodity Internet appliance/PC would extend the Google brand (and potentially charge up the non-Windows world and the long promised, but so far poorly received incarnations of the Internet PC) and provide a low-cost platform for accessing online services and applications. Google CEO Eric Schmidt has talked vaguely about an iPod-like device for accessing the world's information, although Google seriously lacks Apple's design sensibilities. The company could could easily acquire the expertise.

While a Google Internet appliance isn't a super technical challenge, what's the compelling reason for the company to get into the mass market hardware business, in which plug-and-play and reliability are requirements--no beta hardware or OS software please.  

There's no reason why Google can't build and brand a $100 to $200 PC, but does the company that wants to organize the world's information want to go beyond its search enterprise appliance hardware at this point. Is the prospect of supplying the world--especially the developing economies--with Google hardware, and extending its footprint with more than bits, worth the hassle of being in the mass market hardware business, which is different from the beta Internet services business?

Doesn't Google have enough to do improving its software services without expanding in yet another direction, or is growing more tentacles the order of the day. Clearly, Google could outsource most of the work and use partners like Wal-Mart to do heavy lifting. Hardware works for companies like Dell and Apple, why not Google. It has the money and headcount to invest in quality assurance and support services for a consumer hardware device, and the idea of booting up, to use an old term, your Google machine has to have a nice ring. Maybe Sun can lend a hand with Google's effort, or perhaps the Googlers are acting as more than just a sponsor for the $100 PC that MIT is promoting.

Nonetheless, I'm not convinced that Google is ready to become a serious hardware company (including the underlying software) other than for its own, and massive, infrastructure build out. If there is any truth the recent story originating with the LA Times, it may be a  testing of the waters. At its heart Google is a software company and is just biding its time until the cost of hardware goes to zero. While the cost is driving to zero, and you have an engine of revenue creation (ads), put the two together and you get a very low-cost Google consumer appliance. Instead of a monthly fee to purchase the hardware, a small fee to use various higher-end services, or no fees based on accepting an ad package.

An Internet appliance is not the only candidate for a Google hardware debut. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Watch wraps up some of the speculation, including the notion of a Google Cube from a Bear Stearns report, via a Robert X. Cringely post about a consumer hardware device that lets users digital media between various devices, simplifying the consumption of video, music and even telephony services.    

Google isn't talking and Wal-Mart cites the reports as rumors. Perhaps we'll find out more on Friday...

Topic: Google

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

12 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Appliance

    With trends like embedded Linux devices (Nokia 770) and Palm putting their backing in Linux, small compact Linux Distros like DSL and Puppy, which run in under 80 megs of disk space, or from a USB pen drive, then it's not a 'stretch' in conceiving that the next step is in acheiving 'smaller' 'thinner' 'leaner' PC appliance which runs from the 'net'.

    Yes there have been past failures, but if Google conceivably back-ends services with (isp connectivity, via their own DSL Linux 'Distro') it only makes sense that they should provide the hardware to enhance access to their web 2.0 applications.

    And, I don't think they will fail with this one if the price point is reasonable with good basic features as they will continue to back fill providing an ever-growing base of SOA applications.

    The PC is progressively going to become thinner and the Web 'fatter'.

    It's just a matter of time.

    Google isn't letting any grass grow under their feet, for sure.

    But, hey, what do I know?
    Let's see what Friday brings! ;)
    D T Schmitz
    • Smelling the roses

      Google is very successful "letting the grass grow under their feet". Their business is selling ads associated with their search service. And that's what they keep doing.

      True, Google is also producing all the free software necessary to operate a portal. None of the software has new features, and the company is patient with improving the public betas.

      But despite the software, the company is not pushing the portal very hard. Content would be useful, and Google recently signed a deal with AOL.

      They paid $1 billion for... AOL not to sign a deal with Microsoft. They probably remember the impact of AOL's decision to use (a spavined version of) IE.

      They've also head faked a number of reporters who very much want to see something newer and more interesting than Microsoft's continued dominance. Most of their gestures have been a lot cheaper than the AOL deal, and the publicity and (fawning, I'd say) respect they've received is a lot better than the cumulative results of a lot of press releases.

      They've even had the benefit of the press's love for open source without having to do more than save money with cheap software.

      If you look at the price of Google stock you'll see the advantages of letting the grass grow under your feet. Ferdinand the Bull was in danger only when he left the pasture.

      So I'll be disappointed if Google announces something major on Friday. Might mean they've started to believe the publicity.
      Anton Philidor
  • Maybe when Google learns to get something out of "beta"...

    When Google is able to get more than two or three of their major applications out of perpetual beta, I'll beleive that they may be ready to consider to think about producing an OS. Yes, I know it would just be a Linux distro, which means that it is always beta (I'll freely admit, many Linux "beta" software, like Google, is truly production quality), but that Google won't have much to do with it, but still...

    Google simply does not have their act together. They are really great at introducing a new service that has some nifty features, and then ignoring it once the Slashdot crowd gets all happy about it. I certainly don't want to buy a PC from a company with the mindset that Google has. It's bad enough to use a Microsoft operating system, at least I don't also have to use Microsoft hardware. Actually, their mice and keyboards are pretty good, now that I think about it...

    J.Ja
    Justin James
  • What if... no, I'm nuts

    What if Google buys Apple? That will make a powerful combination of hardware, software and services.
    The cash is there... Maybe I'm speaking nonsense
    JoseCtesArg
    • Buy Apple, Loose Jobs

      Steve Jobs.

      I doubt that Google wants to deal with the issues that Apple deals
      with every day. Google puts out free products while raking in ad
      revenues. Apple spends a lot of money (half a billion a year on
      R&D) with an emphasis on design (both hardware and software)
      that will justify a higher starting price point. Very different
      companies - like mixing oil & water.
      Ken_z
      • Why would anyone want to be bought by Google...

        At the moment they are the "In thing", though there are some rumblings in the market that they may be a 'bit' overvalued. If they should drop back , what would be the fate of a company owned by them?

        they would be the first to cut.

        If google stays steady for a few years, then maybe someone would like to take a chance with them.
        John Zern
  • Message has been deleted.

    Too Old For IT
  • Google TV listings would be nice

    I wish Google would start a Google TV listing service that would show the original airdate. Yahoo has that service but each program must be clicked to see the original airdate and it's not very accurate. I do like when yahoo states repeat on the grid. TV guide will place "new" on the grid but only on some programs. Perhaps it could also be integrated with the Google PC and would have great value if someone wanted to timeshift their TV programs to the hard drive without the Windows OS.
    consumer_advocate
  • Thin clients will fail. Fat clients will succeed.

    Plus, you can fit a fully capable OS with Open Office and Firefox on a 128 sub stick with unbelievable performance running out of ram. Dirt cheap and far faster and efficient and easy on resources than the pig the Redmond's software has become.

    Nobody's going to want to use a PC that hosts all their applications on a remote server. Even with broadband it would suck beyond belief.
    daver_z
    • I agree. No need for an "internet appliance"

      Google should just make a slick GUI shell for their linux distro, like OS X is for Darwin BSD. If they can get the major PC retailers like Dell and Gateway to offer it as a OS configuration with no or very cheap cost, then Google has created a loss leader for having new PCs default point to Google home page and default installed with Google Talk and with OOo instead of MS Office. They don't need to have a particular platform for it since linux already runs on most architectures.
      brodie.hodges
    • Why buy encarta when you can use Wikipedia?

      People used to sell dictionaries for PCs as well. Most people will now use online dictionaries I think. No need to install etc etc.
      I think Thin client and Fat client is a pointless distinction now: what we need is a slightly fatter thin client, using flashROM instead of hard disk perhaps.
      The thing that is missing at the moment, is an application registry and caching system. Imagine I want to use OpenOffice. Whichever system I go to, I log in to my custom google page, and openoffice is installed in the background to a cached area. No further need to install. No need to specify the host system either (could be Linux, MacOSX, FreeBSD or Windows). The programs could be open source or purchased. But over time, the programs will get thinner, and the cached libraries fatter or more efficient.
      hipparchus2001
  • Remember when Oracle touted thin client computing?

    Oracle even created a thin client box. Nobody bought them back then, why would anyone buy one now?
    snideb