Earlier this week, Google shocked the tech world when it announced that co-founder Larry Page was going to step into the CEO role while Eric Schmidt, who has run the company since 2001, would become an advisor. While Google has grown tremendously under Schmidt’s leadership, its image has slowly morphed from a plucky, innovative technology startup to a giant corporate behemoth. With Page, who developed Google’s search algorithm in his dorm room, the company has a true geek’s geek in charge, someone who loves to push the envelope of technology.
Hare are five ways Larry can restore Google’s geek cred:
1. Kill Chrome OS, Improve Android Instead: As I’ve said before, Chrome OS has to be the most geek-unfriendly operating system ever imagined. You can’t install apps, hack the OS or do anything remotely cool. Android, on the other hand, is all about customization from custom skins to custom ROMs. You can even get into a terminal window on your phone and start typing unix commands with the mobile OS. It’s so flexible that it’s making the move from phones to slates. Why not create a mouse and keyboard-oriented, desktop version of Android and put Chrome OS into the recycle bin of history where it belongs?
2. Supercharge Google Apps for Business: The technology and infrastructure behind some of Google’s most powerful tools have long been available as premium services for businesses that want to use Gmail, Google Calendar, Google docs, and a few other services for their employees. While these services are extremely inexpensive and easy to use, the company treats Google Apps for Business and its customers like bastard children. The Google Apps for Business versions of everything are always the last to get new features like Priority Inbox and sometimes (as in the case of Gtalk) they don’t even work properly on Android handsets.
Worse still, Google doesn’t seem to have given much thought to what IT geeks actually need. For example, in Gmail for business, there’s no way for an admin to set IT policies or monitor user accounts for illicit activity. The word processor and spreadsheet apps provide decent collaboration, but offer a minimum of features, still don’t work offline (though this feature is promised), and don’t allow for the kind of customized templates or macros many businesses require.
By treating Apps for Business like some kind of lame toy, Google is not only dissing IT geeks; it’s also leaving a ton of business on the table. Page should immediately direct resources into building Apps into a real Microsoft Office competitor, both by adding IT-friendly functions to docs and Gmail and by making some of Google’s other core products available as premium business services. YouTube should also offer a customizable version of its player for business.
3. Use Developers to Win in Social: We know Google Buzz didn’t go anywhere, Google Wave was a disaster, and everyone says that Google can’t do social media. But, with a core strength in developing and hosting new online tools, Google needs to take a different approach. Rather than trying to build a trendy destination site like FaceBook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, Google needs to build the best APIs and services that empower developers to create rich social experiences for Google users. It also needs to make Google Talk and Gmail the hubs to which social features are added. I’d love to log into my favorite shopping site and see a widget that showed which of my Google Talk friends was currently shopping in the same place, for example.
4. Fight For Android Geeks: The company that once believed its Nexus One phone could break carriers’ stranglehold on the handset market has done everything in its power to appease both telecoms and device manufacturers, at the expense of users. Page should require that vendors and carriers make it easy for users to update their phones to the latest version of Android at the time it comes out. He should also build root access into the operating system and prevent companies like Motorola from using bootlockers and other anti-rooting measures.
5. Change Course on Net Neutrality: Page should make Google’s “don’t be evil” mantra mean something again by pushing for full net neutrality for both wireless and wired traffic. Back in the summer, Google shocked its supporters by issuing a joint policy proposal with Verizon where the two companies proposed that wireless Internet providers be allowed to pick and choose which web services they’ll allow their users to see and how quickly they load. Under this proposal, if Verizon or Sprint or AT&T wants to demand access fees from a small startup web site in order to show its users that site’s content or tools, it can do so. If, in 1998, a startup web service named Google had had to pay kickbacks to AOL or Earthlink in order to appear to their subscribers, I might be writing a column today about Lycos instead.