Jul 8th, 2009
Google announced their plan to introduce the Google Chrome OS into the market for PC operating systems. Google Chrome OS is an expansion of the capabilities Google introduced with their Chrome browser just 9 months ago. It will essentially be a Web OS that intelligently integrates on-line and local device resources to provide a slick interface for managing all the content consumption, creation and sharing we routinely do. Netbooks running the new Chrome OS should be available in about a year.
This is important news. Not because it challenges Microsoft’s dominance of the PC operating system market, as stressed in the New York Times article on the announcement, but because it’s a sign that we are heading to another sweet spot in the information technology revolution. A sweet spot is where hardware, software and cultural trends come together to make complex tasks much easier and cheaper to accomplish. The effect transforms society enabling new ways for people to interact. For example, in 1994, reliable, dial-up Internet service met the graphical Web browser, Mosaic, just as Al Gore re-invented the Internet as an open platform for business, entertainment and the free, global exchange of information and ideas.
Here are the important trends today: A new generation of high-speed WiFi based on freed up broadcast spectrum from the conversion to digital TV is on its way and will meet up with new portable devices that are fun to use and cheap to own. After Google Chrome OS goes open-source, there should be versions available for everything from X-Boxes to old TiVo machines.
Speaking of Tivo, the recent Supreme Court decision to deny the appeal in the Cablevision DVR case highlights another trend. Cablevision wanted to provide DVR services upstream on their servers. The broadcast networks held that this was making copies for redistribution and, thus, they should pay royalties. The Appeals Court ruling, which the Supremes let stand, held that, once the consumer paid a license for a piece of content, it didn’t matter where it was stored on the consumer’s behalf—on a local hard drive or somewhere in the cloud. This decision lays the groundwork for challenging all the restrictions that the telco, broadcast and cable monopolies, place on how, where and when we do anything.
Here’s my last trend to watch: A month ago, the state of Vermont OK’d the formation of virtual corporations by a change in its tax laws. This means that corporations (LLCs) in Vermont no longer need to have a physical mailing address and can conduct online board meetings.
An important conclusion was missed in the Vermont reporting – a corporation can have bank accounts and credit cards. This is a privilege hitherto granted by our government only to corporations and individuals and denied to such entities as: MeetUp groups and SecondLife communities. The effect of this, as Clay Shirky points out in Here Comes Everybody, limits our ability to leverage the Internet, with social media tools, to organize and engage in collective actions other than protest movements.
How will society change in the next two or three years when all of us are connected to a World Wide Web of rich media, all the time, in devices on us and around us; with fast, friendly software that knows about us, our friends and the tribes we associate with; when the last geographic and cost barriers to collaborative action for the common good are gone?