Observations from where technology meets business

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Google Chrome

Initial reaction to Google removing the “beta” label from Chrome is surprise. The New York Times observed that Gmail still “sports the ‘beta’ label.” And later: “But Google said it would also have a newer version of Chrome that will always be in beta".”

One likely reason for dropping the “beta” label so quickly is Chrome being an open source project, which traditionally have a production (often called “stable”) release built with code that has been strongly vetted and a development version based on the latest check-in code (which is, unsurprisingly, often called “unstable”). Debian, the open source Linux distribution, has 5 releases of their software: stable, testing, unstable, experimental, and oldstable.

I wouldn’t be surprised to see Chrome dropping the “beta” label entirely.

SaaS and Open Source? You are asking the wrong question!

Most everyone knows that Yahoo, Google, and many Web 2.0 companies built their SaaS offerings using open source software. Yes, they use open source to save licensing costs. Yes, they used open source to develop their services quickly using Linux, Python, PHP and a host of other high-quality components. They also benefit from the improvements these open source components see year after year.

But, does this mean that SaaS represents the best use of open source?  No, not from a customer perspective. In my opinion, many of the discussions I've been reading lately focus on the wrong question. It's not if SaaS and open source are complementary (of course they are) but how do they complement each other and, more importantly, what does this mean for the customer.

Open source is free and SaaS is often free (as in free email and free social networks). But the primary benefit of open source isn't cost savings, it's choice (to a CIO this means "mitigating risk"). Users of open source can be assured that their data or content sitting in an application will continue to be usable, even if a commercial vendor drops a service or stops selling software.

SaaS (regardless if it was built using open source software or not) that delivers a proprietary service is still a proprietary solution and that removes customer choice. And, yes, I am equating Google Sites to Microsoft SharePoint in this regard. As a customer I may not care how a solution is built but I absolutely care about choice (and as a CIO I really care about mitigating risk).

Open source software that you install on your own equipment is interesting. It gives me choice but at the cost running it myself. But, open source software provided as SaaS is downright compelling because I get the advantages of both SaaS and open source. Someone else takes care of it and I retain choice.

Who will you trust for your cloud computing?

10837680_a6ccb07bc3_o Microsoft is getting some backlash from their recent decision to drop the MSN Music service. This is an online service that uses DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology to sell music. DRM prevents customers from buying one copy of a song and then making copies for friends. Joe Wilcox provides a good overview of what is happening here.

Online providers shutting down a DRM-protected media service isn't new. This happened last year when Google dropped their video store. At the time Google offered credits to customers losing access to their purchased videos. Microsoft is telling customers they can still listen to their purchased songs on any computer registered before the end of August. After that, if a computer breaks or is replaced you are out of luck. Needless to say, nobody likes either option.

What happens is the DRM-protected media player needs to check-in with a server from time to time to see if the song can be played. If that server doesn't respond the only thing you hear is the sound of silence (Hello darkness my old friend...). This is why content companies like DRM. They can control who accesses their content. Rhapsody, for example, will only authorize the use of songs for a week or two for customers of their subscription music service. Stop paying the monthly fee and the songs stop playing (I have to admit, I like the Rhapsody service).

I bet many customers were surprised this could even happen. But with DRM-protected music you only buy the right to listen to the music. By the way, this limited right is not new. Look at the fine print on one of your music CDs. You don't own anything other than perhaps the material it took to make the CD and packaging.

This is fine until the company running the server authorizing players decides to get out of the business. But, remember we are talking about Microsoft and Google here. These are not fly-by-night companies that might have run out of money or were gobbled up by competitors or whatever might happen to say a startup. Aren't we supposed to be able to trust these large companies? They're...you know...large, after all.

To me this shows how important trust is when it comes to network-delivered services, be it a music service or cloud computing. Whether it is an Amazon Web Service, Google App Engine, Microsoft Office Live, or whatever online service you might want to use, trust will play a huge role in determining whether or not you give them your information (songs, documents, data, applications, etc.). Trust will especially play a critical role when trying to persuade new customers to use a cloud service.

Question is, who do you trust?

BetaNews | Google to phase in offline access options for Docs

Something we have been expecting for some time (since Google Gears came out). It will be interesting to see how well this works.

One of the most innovative additions that Google may be making to its applications suite would, in a bygone era, be one of the most basic features: the ability to save locally.

BetaNews | Google to phase in offline access options for Docs

Too Funny For Words

Microsoft launches its alternative to Amazon's SimpleDB | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com

My question earlier this week regarding Microsoft's answer to Amazon's SimpleDB and Google's BigTable appears to have been answered.

Microsoft has begun signing up testers for SQL Server Data Services (SSDS), a forthcoming service that will allow customers and developers to host their data in a Microsoft-hosted database.

Microsoft officials were reticent to compare SQL Server Data Services to offerings from any competitors. But Gartner Vice President David Smith said the new Microsoft service was comparable to Amazon’s SimpleDB, a service like Amazon’s SimpleDB.

Microsoft launches its alternative to Amazon’s SimpleDB | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com

Via: Peter O'Kelly

Microsoft: Storage unification still somewhere out there | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com

Given Amazon's recently announced SimpleDB and Google's use of BigTable will we see a similar offering from Microsoft (perhaps with the words "SQL Server" in the name) now that Microsoft wants to consolidate their webstores? If not, can the Microsoft services scale to the size of the others?

SharePoint, from its inception, has been built on top of SQL Server, Gates said. Microsoft is working to allow And other Microsoft applications, like Dynamics CRM, are SQL Server-based, too. Microsoft is moving toward making Active Directory “more of a meta-directory based on SQL Server,” as well, he said. However, Exchange still has its own database that uses a different store than SQL Server, Gates admitted.

“Out in the future, Exchange will be built on SQL,” Gates said again on March 3. But still no firm timetable or delivery vehicle was mentioned.

On the services side of the Microsoft house, storage unification has been a push from the get-go. Windows Live Mail, Windows Live Contacts, Windows Live Spaces, Xbox Live, CRM Live, Office Live and a number of other Live services use the same Webstore that runs on SQL Server.

Microsoft: Storage unification still somewhere out there | All about Microsoft | ZDNet.com

Microsoft Office Live Workspace

On Sunday Microsoft unveiled plans for Office Live Workspace, touting it as their entry into the free online office suite market. The response, at least from the blogosphere, has been what can best be described as a collective yawn. There was only a brief conversation about it on SlashDot and hardly any presence at all on Digg.

Responses ranged from confusion:

"I wish I could give you a simple explanation of what the company is offering, but, this being Microsoft, what we have is a witch's brew of balkanized services, elaborate brand hierarchies, and jargon out the wazoo."

Nicholas Carr's Rough Type

...to indifference:

"There's nothing even approaching an actual online editor and, frankly, not much to compel anyone to use the new services. In fact, the only thing truly interesting about Office Live Workspace is what it doesn't do: create and edit docs in the browser."

Scott Gilbertson's Wired Blog

...to critical:

"The barbarians are at the gate, a new horde is on the way, but no one seems to be defending the castle. Instead, the Microsoft Office warriors are rebranding, repackaging and relaunching old products and calling them new."

Michael Arrington's TechCrunch

...to insulting:

"Microsoft readies Office Live Workspace, an online storage space for office documents. The catch? You can only edit the spreadsheet, Word doc or slideshow if you have MS Office installed on your computer. Uh, ok."

Lifehacker (the title of the post was "Dumb")

Microsoft Office received more attention for an error in Excel 2007. Adobe received more coverage of its announced acquisition of Virtual Ubiquity, an online word processor. Well that might be because it looks like Adobe may actually release an online office suite.

To me it appears Google is making progress convincing the public that online documents offer advantages over the document-as-file paradigm supported by client-based office suites.

It's also not clear if Workspace will be based on SharePoint or something else. The way it is described it sure sounds like SharePoint but nothing from Microsoft actually says it is SharePoint. I only found a brief mention of Workspace being based on SharePoint from Mary Jo Foley's coverage. But then Mary Jo contradicts herself in the same paragraph by saying documents will be viewable in a browser.

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