It's been a busy week for roll-outs and rumors of new online services. We are seeing the early rounds of an escalating battle between Google and Microsoft to become the dominant online user service provider. But don't expect Yahoo or AOL to sit this one out on the sidelines.
Microsoft launched its new search engine at live.com. Yusuf Mehdi, senior vice president of information services at MSN, predicted people's reaction : "They're going to say, 'Holy cow, I had no idea that search could get this much better!' " Google search is pretty good, so we'll see if the immediate bovine exclamations prove to be warranted.
Google leaked (allegedly by accident) its plan for offering consumers infinite online storage. "The online copy of your data will become your Golden Copy," Google's notes said, with the original information kept on a user's PC essentially serving as a backup.
But there's more than meets the eye to both these disclosures. Regular readers have seen my comments on Web 2.0 applications. If not, review here.
Microsoft wants to grab headlines by touting a better search engine than Google. But check out Windows Live (TM) Ideas for the real scope of their plans. The laundry list includes an improved webmail service, automated computer maintenance, custom domains, traveling favorites, Microsoft Office Live on the web and a whole lot more. Then check out the newly released Microsoft Gadgets feature. Microsoft says "Gadgets are a new category of mini-application designed to provide information, useful lookup, or enhance an application or service on your Windows PC or the Web." There are lots of interesting Gadgets available on day one, including many simple games, information presenters, applications that enhance current Microsoft services and even all sorts of Gadgets that work with Google or iTunes. Then they've made it easy for developers and hobbyists to design and publish their own Gadgets. It almost looks like Microsoft is promoting an open source movement or a return to the early days of computing when independent developers released all sorts of applications from the silly to the sublime. But this is all under Microsoft's live.com umbrella. So every new Gadget (and there will be many) adds to Microsoft's empire.
The concept from Google is no less breathtaking in its scope when you think about it. Online storage has been around for a long time. Google's Gmail invites massive online storage of e-mail archives at no cost. But the concept of online storage is gaining more attention for typical, non-expert computer users. I was summoned to a friend's house a few weeks ago to look at a computer that had been in service for too long and was obviously nearing the end of its lifespan. The computer was too old to upgrade or send out for repairs. So I noted that the most important step was to copy off onto CD's or a thumbdrive any important documents and other data while the computer still lived. I made a casual comment that the family's large collection of digital pictures of their children growing up was likely the most valuable part of the computer and if they hadn't been burning copies onto CD's, that was the first priority. The wife mulled over my remarks for a few hours after I left. My friend later advised me that by the next day my comments about computer data triage had become not just their first priority in data management, but their primary focus in life. Happily all of the pictures were saved- in duplicate - with a set now stored off-site. But I'm,sure the idea of online backup would not seem unreasonable to this couple.
So what? If you are a lawyer reading this blog, the odds are a virtual certainty that you've already been advised to do regular backup and to store copies in a different location. Although images of the aftermath of Katrina should make you consider whether an off-site copy of your backup media taken to your home a few miles from your office is really safe enough for your mission critical data.
But Google isn't just talking about off-site backup of consumer's important data with its Golden Copy concept. They are discussing a protected copy of everything. The logical conclusion to that concept is much broader than just bullet-proof backup for consumers and their digital photos. The excitement will be when you buy a brand new computer and hook it up and tell Google, "This is my new machine." And then a few hours later Google has installed all of your data, your installed commercial software, your tweaks and customizations, the little applications you've downloaded, your music, and the Desktop display looks (and acts) just like the former computer, but faster. That, my friends, would be worth some payment, whether it comes from me as a subscriber or advertisers touting their wares as I use Google All or Microsoft World Everything.
Please note that we are talking about consumer's data, not attorney's confidential records. Google probably will have to do some image repair on how it really respects privacy and confidentiality to even attract a broad consumer base with this concept. After all, a growing number of home computers have online banking access information.
But as we march on, it was announced yesterday that Google bought the parent company of Writely, a really slick on-line Web 2.0 word processing tool.
The final point is that there will soon be so many Web 2.0 services that you won't even be able to try all of the useful ones within one mega-parent provider, much less spend a lot of time shopping the entire online universe. It is unlikely that most consumers will pick webmail from Microsoft, Instant Messaging from Yahoo, voice telephony from Skype, search from Google and online file storage from AOL, even if those particular services may get the best ratings in the technology trade press. Likely most all of giants will offer most all of these functions that will be "good enough" after a few releases and the interactivity between the functions will lead most to choose one primary brand for most, and likely all, of these services.
The race for these consumers' attention may not technically have just begun. But it sure did seem like we heard the crack of the starter's pistol this week. (Or maybe that signaled the "gun lap.")