Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Google does so do lock-in. Fool.

The Economist needs a CPU upgrade. They're not only channelling the Wall Street Journal's moronic editorial pages, they're completely mangling the most important concept of modern business -- lock-in:
Information technology | Is Google the new Microsoft? |

... Try to avoid using Microsoft's software for a day, particularly if you work in an office, and you will have difficulty; but surviving a day without Google is relatively easy. It has strong competitors in all the markets in which it operates: search, online advertising, mapping, software services, and so on. Large firms such as Yahoo!, which previously farmed searches out to Google, have switched to other technologies. Google's market share in search has fallen from a high of around 80% to around 50% today. Perhaps the clearest evidence that Google's continued dominance is not inevitable is the fate of AltaVista, the former top dog in internet search. Who remembers it today?

Without a proprietary lock-in to protect its dominant position, Google will have to work hard to stay on top.
Anyone try changing an email address lately? Move one's blog from blogger? Switch from Gmail? Google is far more open than Yahoo! or AOL (they support POP transfers from the mailbox), but it's not like you can move a 1 GB image repository from Picasa to Flickr in a keystroke. Data ownership is a far bigger lock-in than mere software UI. Just ask any corporation running SAP.

In any case Microsoft's lock-in was never Word (really), it was .doc. That's an immensely important difference.

How can The Economist miss something as fundamental as this?

There's a lot more to this topic than I can discuss in a few moments, but here's an exercise for the reader. Describe how the following items relate to lock-in and how a manufacturer can obsolete a product they seem not to control ... (hint. Stop making the stylus.)
1. Apple's new magnetic power cord attachment.
2. Any proprietary battery for any device.
3. Any charger for a device.
4. Any patented connector. (Think iPod connector.)
5. Any stylus or any other non-generic consummable that gets lost or broken.
For extra credit note that Apple's lock-in is not merely the FairPlay DRM, it's that nothing but an iPod can sync with iTunes.

Update 5/17: Hey, is the Guardian reading my blog?
... Received wisdom says there's no lock-in on the web, with rival search engines just a click away. But if you develop a Google search habit, and Google has your email and address book, calendar, news feeds, bookmarks (in Notebook), back-up files (in Gdrive, soon) and other data (in Base), and if it handles your voice calls, organises your photos and so on, then you're going to find it increasingly tedious to switch. That's the idea.
Seriously, Jack Schofield must have written this independently of me, but it is noteworthy that The Guardian has pipped The Economist. And not for the first time. Jack has a blog btw, which I've added to my bloglines list.

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