Until Chrome came along, Google's Master Mobile Plan didn't quite add up. Now it does. Chrome -- Google's new superbrowser -- is cream on the top of a new mobile software stack. Let's call it GACL, for Gears, Android and Chrome on Linux. Gears is a way to run Web apps on desktops and store data locally as well as in the cloud. Android is a development framework for Linux-based mobile devices. Chrome is a browser, but not just for pages. Chrome also runs apps. In that respect, it's more than the UI-inside-a-window that all browsers have become. It's essentially an operating system.
For those of us old enough to remember, Chrome's symbol calls to mind Simon, one of the earliest electronic game toys with a digital brain:
You can't play with Chrome on Linux yet, but when Google promises a product on multiple platforms, it generally delivers soon enough. (And, as Marcel just pointed out , there are already ways for Linux folken to jump early on the bandwagon.) Android phones haven't hit the beach in waves yet either, but count on that too.
Well, then the game changes. Remember back when Marc Andreessen raised Microsoft's hackles by saying Netscape would "reduce Windows to a set of poorly debugged device drivers"? Netscape failed to do that, but Google won't. It's not just that Google is Netscape II, it's that Google has a platform here. At the bottom that platform is the OS of your choice. At the top is a browser built from the start to run apps and not just pages.
Chrome is not in a "browser war" with Firefox and Internet Explorer. It's a different animal. As Nick Carr puts it, "(Google's) real goal, embedded in Chrome's open-source code, is to upgrade the capabilities of all browsers so that they can better support (and eventually disappear behind) the applications. The browser may be the medium, but the applications are the message."
Will Google upgrade its current apps and introduce new ones that run best or only in Chrome and Chrome-compatible browsers? Count on it. Yesterday at Blog World Expo a user told me that Gears running in Firefox (as an add-in) made Gmail fly.
But the real sweet spot here isn't computers. It's mobile phones. Here's how David Berlind puts it:
By offering mobile developers an alternative way for making their mobile applications run on handsets, even when no wireless connection exists, Google is paving the way for developers to build browser-based applications that can run on any mobile platform, as opposed to having to build separate versions of their applications in order to support those same mobile platforms.
What Google's doing with GACL is opening up the Net. Everything Google does to improve the Net's infrastructure — from investing in fiber backbones to building "cloud" servers, apps and services — widens the range of what people can do on the Net. Nick Carr again:
I think Google is motivated by something much larger than its congenital hatred of Microsoft. It knows that its future, both as a business and as an idea (and Google's always been both), hinges on the continued rapid expansion of the usefulness of the Internet, which in turn hinges on the continued rapid expansion of the capabilities of web apps, which in turn hinges on rapid improvements in the workings of web browsers.
Nick calls Chrome "the first cloud browser", and perhaps it is.
Now look at the success Apple is having with the closed and proprietary iPhone, which is essentially a data device on which telephony is just one application among countless others. What happens when the best-debugged devices are driven by GACL, without limitations imposed by any one company's lock-ins?
Dig this: Motley Fool reports,
When Deutsche Telekom's (NYSE: DT) T-Mobile launches the first Android handset next Wednesday, the Android app store will be fully stocked with its own user-friendly applications. Google hosted a programming competition with a total of $10 million in prizes to ensure that there would be top-notch applications available on Day One. The Android team wants a "vibrant third-party developer community," and here's the kicker all of the app store revenue will be passed on to the developers. Google keeps nothing. (Apple takes 30% of all revenue from its App Store offerings; developers get the other 70%.)
It's open season for developers, and an open market for everybody.
Doc Searls is Senior Editor of Linux Journal