Thursday, December 15, 2005

Firefox Extensions and the end of Windows?

For some time now, the pundits of the software industry have speculated on Google's affinity for the Firefox browser. When Google registered the Gbrowser domain name, for instance, the whole blogosphere was abuzz. And hiring some Firefox developers certainly did nothing to quiet the rumor mill.

Recent stories on Google's blog point to further development of Firefox extensions, which are modules used to -- uhm -- extend the capabilities of the Mozilla-based browser. For instance, Google's Blogger Web Comments extension allows a surfer to see what other bloggers are saying about the site they're visiting... and to add related commentary on their own blog.

But this is tangential to the point of this post. The key question remains: what is Google really up to?

A Google PC?

In May, SquirrelNet had an interesting take:

GBrowser would make it easier for Google to control both data and applications, bypassing Microsoft entirely. In fact, it's conceivable that Google could launch its own PC which wouldn't need any Microsoft software. Here's what the Google PC could look like:

* A low-cost PC running the Linux operating system (saves $100 to $150 versus Microsoft's operating system)
* Features the GBrowser, the much speculated Google Browser

Throw OpenOffice into the mix, Evolution as a thick-client email package, well, you get the picture. Google could offer a full-fledged PC -- virtually indistinguishable from a Windows-based system -- at a significant discount from any competing Windows platform.

Firefox as the OS?

A parallel path is simply to continue to augment Firefox with capabilities until it is the operating system. Tight integration with Google's online properties (search, email, local services, etc.) is happening as we speak. Future integration will come in the form of VoIP (voice-over-IP) telephony, IPTV (television delivered over the Internet), and converged services we have yet to imagine.

Furthermore, Google's continued experimentation with -- and support of -- AJAX portends a day in which thick-client applications are altogether unnecessary. AJAX (a universally loathed acronym among developers) represents a set of technologies that allow faster, easier user-interfaces on browsers. An example is the drag-and-drop interface used by Google Maps.

Continued development and support of AJAX by the Google and Firefox teams mean that more and more users will simply not need thick-client applications like Word, Excel, or Access. Over time, those applications will run as commodity services -- over secure connections, mind you -- at a server farm.

These services could run at Google's farm or could be installed within a company's firewall. Google already sells a bright yellow box called the Google Search Appliance, which delivers internal network (intranet) search for organizations.

Google Search Appliance

The Google search appliance is simply one example of a plug-and-play box that companies can simply strap into their infrastructure.

Consider a Google Office appliance that would deliver Microsoft Office capabilities for a fraction the cost of licensing Office for every desktop.

The roadmap...

The roadmap might simply be: hook users on free services that leverage the tremendous power of Google's serverplex. Deliver an increasingly capable set of services without requiring licensing costs. Upsell companies appliances that securely deliver similar services within the corporate firewall.

At what point do we become so dependent upon Google for the services that facilitate our every day lives (and our businesses, for that matter) that the OS becomes irrelevant? For many users, that day has already come and gone.

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