Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Google - how do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

Anyone who knows me well knows how I feel about Google. I have been a Googler since the company's early days, and have always been impressed with the simplicity, transparency and clarity of their vision.

Sure, it's easy to carp about some things they have done but, let's face it, for a company that size, there have been remarkably few bad incidents. And, let's face it, it's the nature of the human beast - we are always quick to complain, and slow to compliment. So let me have a go at the latter.

When images, sound and all the other computing-intensive geegaws came into fashion in the '90s, people were quick to notice the spartan nature of the Google search engine interface, and predicted that this would make the company unpopular, that no-one would want to look at that almost-blank, huge, white screen. But, as time went by, I think people came to realize that substance always trumps image. And that's what Google is all about, in spades: substance.

Beyond their brilliant search engine, look at some of their recent forays into their comfort space of cloud computing:

Gmail: This quickly became one of the most popular email services on the web. Why? Well, they maintained their concept of easy-to-use, solid software. They introduced two innovations (labels vs folders, and grouping message threads into "conversations"), which, I believe, really helped propel the service to its current high degree of acceptance. I was reminded of their quality early this morning when, for the first time in many years of using Gmail, my account was compromised by a spambot, which attempted to use my contact list to spread a series of emails containing nothing but a link to a Russian chat site. Within seconds, Gmail sensed what was happening, and suspended my account. When I logged in this morning, I was presented with this fact. Fearing that I was about to descend into the fiery pit of customer-service hell, I was instead pleasantly surprised. Restoration of my account was achieved in less than a minute, and involved them sending me a validation code to my phone via text, which I then keyed in, and was then asked to change my password. Bingo, done. Safe, secure, simple. Why can't it ALWAYS be like that?

Chrome: Their answer to Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari, Chrome has revolutionized the world of browsers. It's a modern system, written with one overriding design factor: safety. While avoiding getting too technical, happy users of Chrome will know that, on those occasions when a rogue website tries to cause havoc on your machine, all that happens is that the tab containing the bad site closes. That's it. Life goes on. Fabulous. (Google accomplishes this by holding each tab in its own protected space in memory -- again, I'm oversimplifying by trying to avoid getting too technical.) The Chrome interface, some would say, is spartan. I think that's a good thing. It's an amazingly easy browser to use, and requires almost no learning curve. Try it - you will like it, I promise.

Google Docs: With the goal of making just about any file format accessible to the masses, Google is now in the enviable position of being able to offer its users the ability to (at least) read just about any document and, (at most) enjoy the full underlying functionality of each format. Many users of their search engine, Gmail, and Chrome don't even realize the amount of work Google has put into this. They just get to happily take for granted that stuff will work. Gee, what a concept!

The list goes on. I have only scratched the proverbial surface of what this fascinating company does. I just hope they can successfully ride the new wave of cloud computing well into the future. (I tell ya, Microsoft must be quaking in their boots, since they are still very much mired in the old world of client-side computing. As valiant as their recent efforts are to move forward - witness Bing - I think that it will take a major culture shift for that company to become, and remain, a viable competitor to the likes of Google.)

As always, your views are welcome - I especially enjoy dissent, so please feel free to argue with me!

Meantime, you go, Google!

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