Chrome Hype: When Non-Techies Blog About Technology
Posted on September 2, 2008
Filed Under Unjournalism |
One of the things that has amused me about the technology blogosphere is the fact that some of its most popular A-listers and B-listers aren’t even legitimate “techies.”
From the misuse of terminology to downright mischaracterizations and misinterpretations, the technology blogosphere has no shortage of technology enthusiasts masquerading as technology experts.
TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington is the perfect example of this.
Arrington has a bachelor’s degree in economics and a law degree from Stanford. He was a corporate attorney in Silicon Valley at O’Melveny & Myers and Wilson Sonsini where he was primarily involved in financing and securities-related tasks for technology startups.
After leaving the world of law, he co-founded and founded several technology companies and held management and consulting roles at several others before he started TechCrunch, the world’s most popular technology blog.
Arrington’s love for technology and technology startups is not in question but it’d be hard to argue that Arrington doesn’t have far more in common with the MBAs who inhabit Silicon Valley than he does the geeks who inhabit Silicon Valley. In other words, he’s a Silicon Valley entrepreneur to be sure but he’s definitely not a “techie.”
There’s nothing inherently wrong with this but when people like Arrington take on “techie” issues, the irony of a tech blogosphere that is as much controlled by non-techies as it is by techies becomes apparent.
The perfect example of this came yesterday when Arrington posted about Chrome, Google’s new and already overhyped open-source Internet browser.
Arrington calls it “Google’s Windows Killer” and writes:
While it seems that Chrome is aimed at IE and Firefox, the target is really Windows.
…Chrome is nothing less than a full on desktop operating system that will compete head on with Windows.
Expect to see millions of web devices, even desktop web devices, in the coming years that completely strip out the Windows layer and use the browser as the only operating system the user needs. That was going to happen anyway, but Chrome + Gears just made the decision a whole lot easier for hardware manufacturers to make.
Arrington’s apparent lack of understanding about what constitutes an “operating system” should give techies a good laugh.
Even the imperfect Wikipedia knows what an operating system is:
An operating system (commonly abbreviated OS and O/S) is the software component of a computer system that is responsible for the management and coordination of activities and the sharing of the resources of the computer. The operating system acts as a host for applications that are run on the machine. As a host, one of the purposes of an operating system is to handle the details of the operation of the hardware. This relieves application programs from having to manage these details and makes it easier to write applications.
Does Google’s web browser fit the criteria of an operating system? Of course not, as a TechCrunch commenter named “John” points out:
I can’t stand the “browser as an OS” junk. The browser is not the OS nor is it an OS replacement. The browser is a installed application replacement. You still need an OS to actually power the machine. Doesn’t matter what OS it is (WinCE, Linux, XPe, etc), you are not replacing the core OS features using any browser.
On top of that, if you think web apps are going to replace a desktop OS anytime soon you are clueless. All of these “nettop” devices and such are great, but what is the key hack everyone wants to do? Install Windows XP.
The desktop OS isn’t dying yet, and a browser can never “replace an OS” until it is ready to manage I/O and everything else that goes along with actually running a device. As soon as it does that, it is considered a “OS” and not a “browser.” SoC and embedded type BIOS/OSs (which are Linux) can help fill part of that, but the fact remains the browser is not an OS.
In an amusingly classic reply that demonstrates his ignorance on the subject, Arrington responds:
“The browser is not the OS nor is it an OS replacement.”
sure it is.
“The browser is a installed application replacement. You still need an OS to actually power the machine”
correct. and linux works just fine.
“if you think web apps are going to replace a desktop OS anytime soon you are clueless. ”
Have you looked at what MySpace did with gears? Look, then comment.
John shoots back:
Do you need a diagram then? You just conflicted your own saying.
You said Linux works fine for an OS, which means Linux is the OS, which means a browser is not the OS.
A better example of how some of the most prominent people in the technology blogosphere don’t even have a grasp of basic computing concepts would be difficult to find.
Which of course begs an interesting question - if some of the technology blogosphere’s most prominent personalities have little knowledge of key technology concepts, just how credible is the technology blogosphere on the whole?
Not very. While there are certainly fine blogs authored by individuals who know what they’re talking about, the number of technology bloggers who lack real knowledge about technology and the business of technology is quite astounding.
Unfortunately, Arrington’s comments on the business implications of Chrome - an area in which he has some qualification to speculate - are just as inane as his comments on the technology implications.
So not only will Chrome drive lots of incremental revenue to Google, it also paves the way for a Microsoft-free computing experience.
Lots of incremental revenue to Google?
Like Google Docs, which Arrington last year wrote was “tearing the Office wall down”?
Or Google Checkout, which Arrington called “Google’s roundhouse punch to PayPal”?
Google’s latest 10-Q filing indicates that 97% of Google’s revenue comes from its advertising business. The filing also notes:
Revenues realized through the Google Print Ads Program, Google Audio Ads, Google TV Ads, Google Checkout, YouTube and Postini were not material in any of the periods presented.
Clearly, Google Docs, Checkout and the rest of Google’s “cool projects” portfolio aren’t having quite the impact Arrington expected.
And what of his prediction that Chrome will pave the way to a Microsoft-free computing experience?
Notwithstanding the fact that Chrome isn’t an operating system, it’s worth pointing out that most observers still peg Windows’ consumer/business market share at around 90%. Even 140 million copies of Vista, which has received a lukewarm reception from the market, .
In the PC market, Linux still resides in the domain of hardcore techies and distributions like Ubuntu, which was designed for the layman, are far from mainstream.
To anyone with a decent level of tech knowledge, it’s pretty clear that Chrome is an interesting development in the browser space - not a revolutionary one in the operating system space. And to anyone with a reasonable amount of business knowledge, it’s pretty clear that Chrome isn’t going to be creating a material revenue stream for Google anytime soon.
As the BBC’s Darren Waters points out, “For all Mozilla’s success with Firefox, it still only has a 20% market share globally. I’ll be fascinated to see if the Google cache and brand reach will be able to drive Chrome’s success any higher than Firefox.”
And Lance Ulanoff, the Editor in Chief and VP of Content for PC Magazine Network, who also notes that Chrome is not a browser, provides a reasonable explanation as to why Chrome “won’t be a game changer.”
At the end of the day, poor Michael Arrington will have to wait for his “[insert some company or industry] killer.”
In the meantime, I’d suggest he ask if any of his Silicon Valley connections can get him a free seat in a Computer Science 101 class at Stanford. A few refresher courses in the business department might be worthwhile too.
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9 Responses to “Chrome Hype: When Non-Techies Blog About Technology”
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Honestly, though I agree with you on most things I think this is unfair criticism. Using “OS” when actually referring to “Application layer” has been shorthand for decades now. Marc Andreessen, a profoundly qualified tech person, does it all the time. In fact, I believe he might have been the one to start it with Netscape 4.0.
With that said, Arrington is wrong (at least for now). Google Gears is impressive but it isn’t a Desktop API replacement which means it can only do so much. In the realm of “replacing the Desktop” I’d say Adobe AIR is still far closer than Google Chrome is.
Tom: I’m not a fan of “appeal to authority” and frankly I could care less if Marc Andreessen mistakes the application layer for the operating system just as I could care less if Marc Andreesen mistakes left for right.
If he wants to dumb himself down to make things sound more important and sexy than they are, that’s his choice.
The definition of “operating system” is not in question. What an operating system is and what an operating system does is well-established and anybody who has a basic understanding of computers knows that. There is no debate here unless Michael Arrington or Marc Andreesen can boot up my computer with nothing more than Chrome.
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While not arguing about what the “OS” is, I think that if you look behind this word, you will see what Arrington is trying to say: it is unimportabnt what real OS is running on a device (e.g. Linux busybox or whatever) — the OS is needed just to run the browser, which is the “shell”, the application layer. This is where all apps run; real OS then is needed to communicate properly with hardware and provide storage for browser cache/plugins/etc. So, if in the future computers will eventually shift to the described “thin web client” model, this will kill Windows as there’s no reason to have Windows just to run a browser; Linux is a much cheaper alternative. A good ergonomic browser with Gears-alike technology that makes a bridge between the browser and OS is definitely a step to such “web shells” and “web clients”. Most non-techie people will not even know or care what OS runs on thir device, the device will be “browser-powered” for them. And I agree with Michael Arrington here, who — maybe not technically precisely — tells that “browser = OS”.
Igor: the dream of “thin client” computing has been around for a long time. This is not new.
The bottom line is that the average consumer and business person uses on a regular basis applications that are not available through the browser and realistically cannot be replicated effectively as web-based applications.
Techies (and wannabe techies) are out of touch with what consumers really want and need.
Let me give you an example.
My girlfriend recently bought a computer. She’s not a techie. At no point during our shopping experience did she ask about Linux or lower-cost software alternatives.
In fact, she had gone out of her way to purchase Office 2008 Professional before purchasing her new computer and specifically asked if Windows Vista supported it when she saw that Windows XP was not available. Ironically, she ran Open Office on her old machine and decided to invest in Microsoft Office.
This is the average consumer experience. Consumers are comfortable with Windows. For all of its flaws (of which there are many), it works and fulfills the needs of the average consumer and business person.
Consumers will change their behaviors and preferences when they’re given a need to.
Right now, proponents of Thin Client 2.0 (the web as the OS) are promoting a solution in search of a problem.
“There is no debate here unless Michael Arrington or Marc Andreesen can boot up my computer with nothing more than Chrome.”