Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Who Gives a Chrome

Google just came out with the beta of its new browser called Chrome. (Note to Mozilla: You have a browser technology called Chrome too. Isn't that trademark infringement? But I digress...). Predictably, a lot of tech writers went all agog over it. "It's so fast" they said with glee. That might be, in part, because it is unencumbered by features. "Ooo. Each tab runs in it's own process" they giggled. Like that means anything to the average joe. I get that an errant Javascript program won't hang your browser, but that's a problem that even a geek encounters with low frequency.

Here is the crux of the matter: Chrome is made by geeks and ultimately for geeks. It lacks the type of basic features that most normal people want and replaces them with features that normal people don't care about. The little task manager? Nice... if you are a geek. Most people don't know what the Windows Task Manager is and that's way more useful on a regular basis.

The flaws are more obvious then the features. Where's the stupid print button? Yeah I get the "minimal interface" philosophy but regular people doing regular things need a regular old print button. If I have to look for it or remember a key combination (which is sometimes like playing Twister with your hands) it's no help.

What is readily apparent is that this is not really a browser at all. It's an advanced web application and Javascript engine. Now that I understand. There, the minimal interface makes sense since the application is going to handle all the typical application cores. That's not a browser though. It's also not unique. A very neat application called Bubbles has done this for awhile. I'm using it right now to run my Zoho Writer word processor as if it were a desktop application. Mozilla has something like it, called Prism, as well.

Which brings me to the final point. If this is ultimately meant to be a browser, then why? We already have Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari, and Opera without even diving into the hundred or so specialty browsers. What is the point of another one? To stick it to Microsoft? That's not going to happen. Instead, Google is going to harm Mozilla, their erstwhile partner, the most. Why not, instead, contribute the technology to the Mozilla Foundation and get it into Firefox. That way you help your partner and stick it to Microsoft. If this is meant to be a next generation web application engine then "too late!" It's already been done several times over. Day late and a dollar short.

Or maybe Google's collective head has just swelled a bit too large. Perhaps, they are starting to think that anything they come up with is naturally better and should replace everything else in the world. More likely, they are callously trying to undercut their search partners so they can grab a bit more of the search revenue for themselves.

As we sit and view Google ten years after their inception, we see a company that may be losing its way. In the past year they have started to undermine their own partners, encroach on people's privacy with their obnoxious picture taking, and released ho-hum software that causes disruptions but adds little to the technology space.

Not too cool Google. Not too cool.

In the meantime, Chrome is pretty lame and its best features (from a user point of view) are already available in Firefox. If you like the interface (but with a print button!) try the Chromifox theme for Firefox. If you like the ability to peel off a tab to your desktop, you can do that already with Firefox. Get jazzed up by having a tab run as a separate process? It's called "Open in New Window". And try Bubbles or Mozilla's Prism for a Web Application engine. They are just as fast and easy.

And don't let Google screw Mozilla by undercutting the search revenue necessary to keep Mozilla alive. That's just wrong. And they call Microsoft the Evil Empire...

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Once Again, The Old Beta and Switch

Okay, I love Jott! I admit it. Of course, if you read this blog, you know that already. The ability to translate voice to text from my cell phone is clearly useful. Use it to connect to on-line services like Sandy, Xpenser, or Google Calendar, and you have a truly coordinated set of services that enhances business and personal life. It is best viewed as part of a gestalt, where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Now, all that is changing. Jott has come out of Beta and is charging for premium plans. That in itself doesn't bother me. Lots of Open Source projects and free Web sites do this. They have free offerings and premium offerings. That's typical and expected. Free services are supported through advertising or try to entice you to sign up for premium services. You know this going in so it doesn't bother you when it happens. If you think ads are evil (I don't) then it's up to you to decide if you want to make your pact with the Devil.

At the core of this free and premium services strategy is the idea that a basic body of functions is established in the free service and that you pay for the features that go beyond the free. Jott is clearly establishing that model. They have a free service called Jott Basic and then a couple of premium services that include additional features.

The problem is that the social contract of the Beta says that you don't take away features after the Beta and tell Beta testers to pay for them. Ultimately, We've done some work for you. We've suffered through problems that no paying customer would tolerate. The community has pumped you full of ideas for new services that could make you money. We have promoted you to friends, family, and business associates. Free testing, free ideas, and free marketing should count for something.

For the folks behind Jott, this social contract did not amount to much. The Jott Basic takes away the best and most important features - the ability to e-mail via voice and to connect to services like Xpenser and Sandy. There are still some basic links open (Twitter for example) but the most useful ones are only available from the paid subscription services.

Jott has done a Beta and switch.They have given away great features and gotten people hooked on those features. They never made it clear that these features would not stay free after the Beta. It was reasonable to assume that, like most other on-line Beta programs (ala Google or Linkedin), the feature set introduced during the Beta would be the free set. Instead, Jott has decided to break the social contract and eviscerate the free service. I'd like to see them try and get Beta testers for anything again.

What is sad is that there were so many better ways to get people signed up for premium services. For example, offering longer jotts (as they do for the highest premium service) makes sense. The Blackberry software makes sense as a part of a premium package as well. Offering new links to other services, especially paid business services, makes sense. Links to or corporate e-mail gateways would have been something people would pay for. Cutting back on jotts to e-mail and links to free services comes across as a cost cutting move pushed by their accounting department. And the old fashioned desktop applications they are giving away? Sorry, totally old school and uninteresting.

I will make a prediction here. Jott usage will drop off dramatically. As good as it is, it is not tremendously useful without the e-mail and links. Rather than pay $4 a month ($48 a year) to get what we have been getting for free, current Jott users will just trail off. Oh, we'll stay signed up for the occasional use but won't be heavy users. That means that advertisers will see less value in Jott and stop using them and few people will convert to premium.

So, watch Jott over the next 12 months. Either they will be wildly successful and my crystal ball needs realignment, they will be on the verge of disaster, or they will change their offer. I'm hoping for the latter.

Jott people, if this is a Beta test of the marketing and sales program, you could have just asked first. If not, this will be as pleasant as sitting on a spike. Hope you can jump off it before you impale yourself.