EDIT: News reports are now carrying vigorous denials of the rumor. Oh well.
The Register is highly skeptical of the rumored Google PC. Admittedly, it’s playing in the intersection of several areas with bad track records, including:
- Non-Windows PCs
- PCs special-branded for mass-market retailers
- PCs branded by search vendors
Even so, I think there’s a lot of potential for this idea.
To see why, please consider that there basically are four major uses for home PCs:
Presumably, people won’t look to get their work-at-home or gaming PCs at Wal-Mart. That leaves internet/communication and schoolwork. Well, Google is one heckuva heavyweight in internet/communication. If you want a machine to do web surfing, email, instant messaging, and so on, why exactly would Dell/HP/Microsoft be more attractive suppliers than Google?
And how does one do schoolwork on a PC? There’s a lot of internet use, some lightweight use of word processors and other personal productivity tools, and occasionally some use of specialized software (e.g., development tools if you’re learning programming, or various kinds of educational java applets in all sorts of disciplines). Any good machine for communication can meet all those needs perfectly well.
What about IE-only websites, you might ask? Well, the only reason those survive outside Redmond is either total idiocy on the part of webmasters, or a smug reliance on the fact that everybody has IE available at least as a backup browser. But the thing is — they don’t. Mac support for IE has been dropped, and there still are a bunch of Macs out there. IE-only sites, already on the decline, can be expected to dwindle away fast. This is no longer a serious barrier to non-Windows PCs.
Another change from the past is the role of ISPs. These days, there is no role for ISPs, at least in the US. Internet connectivity is being taken over by the telephone and cable TV companies. And they’re just as (in)capable of supporting non-Windows PCs as they are of supporting Windows connections.
Most likely, the Google PC will fizzle at first simply because neither Google nor Wal-Mart really knows how to market it. Besides, the idea of Google as a complete provider of Microsoft-alternative software is slightly futuristic. But if they take their lumps, come back with Version 2 quickly, and then follow Microsoft-like with a kickass Version 3, Google could make a serious dent in Microsoft’s market share.
So that’s the Google threat to Microsoft. Coming soon (I hope) — a post on the Microsoft threat to Google.