Can a Business Really Do No Evil?

I took a week off last week and a lot happened while I was away (literally) shooting the stars. I want to talk about two of those events today, the Oracle / Java debacle and the Google / Verizon debacle.

First, let’s recap. Google and Verizon partnered early last week on a proposal sent to the law makers in the US on their vision of net neutrality … on mobile devices. As anyone could have predicted, that was not a great way to make friends on the Internet. The proposal itself is interesting, but what makes it really interesting for me is that Google’s own philosophy and motto over the years as always been “Do no evil”. Not sure many people still agree with this one.

This was followed earlier this week by Oracle’s move with regards to Java. When Oracle bought Sun, it acquired amongst other things Java, a piece of technology that’s kinda-but-not-100% open source. Actually, a big part of it is, but it ends up the tech is certainly not free of patent issues. In a move best described as a great way to kill off any good will you might have had with the open source community, Oracle decided to go after the money and sued Google for its use of Java in Android.

And in a move that proves that Oracle is not afraid of completely destroying it’s open source credibility in just one week, the company announced the end of Open Solaris.

If I was a MySQL developer, I might be nervous right now. Remember when Sun bought MySQL and we were all nervous about what they would do? Well, the shark has been eaten by an even bigger shark and this one’s not afraid to shake things up.

All of this and more importantly yet, the reaction to all this online reminded me of something I’ve been saying for years : a public company is neither your friend nor your enemy. It’s a company whose primary goal is to make its investors richer by making the action trade higher. Good / bad products, open source good will, good reputation, etc. are all just by products of this goal. It’s true for Oracle and it’s true for every other business out there.

I’m a big fan of Apple’s products lately, but I’m under no illusion that the goal of Steve Jobs is really to make the company more profitable. Often I don’t mind their decisions, but sometime I do (as with the ipad being unable to share the iPhone’s data plan).

Being a fan of a company is fine, but we need to keep in mind that these entities are not our friends.

Apple Versus Flash : Round 1

Something funny happened lately and I’m not talking about me moving and me being away from this blog for several weeks. No, I’m talking about Apple and the fact that everyone and their mother seem to now be against them.

Of course, that’s not a bad thing. It usually means you’re doing things correctly when your competitors start considering you as a worthy opponent. With the many weeks away from the blog, there’s so much to talk about. Let’s start with Flash.

When Steve Jobs wrote his open letter explaining why Apple wouldn’t support Flash, it started arguments all over the Web between Apple fans and Adobe fans. Clearly, Apple believes Flash is bad for the Web and they have no intention of caving in. Adobe obviously disagrees. Unfortunately for Adobe however, Jobs’ points are pretty good. Sure, you can laugh at the irony of Steve Jobs admonishing Adobe for creating a closed platform, but at the end of the day, performance of Flash on Macs (and Linux) has sucked for years and years. Why should we think it’ll be different on a mobile device? Ends up it’s not. Shocked yet?

That whole thing is just stupid anyway. Flash, clearly, isn’t that good. It’s not good for the Web, and it certainly isn’t a good tool to create mobile apps. Not because Adobe makes it, but because Adobe has never been able to make Flash performance acceptable on OS X. They’ve had more than 10 years now. If I was Adobe, I’d create great tools to easily create HTML5 and JS/Ajax piece of software. Instead of creating Action Script, output to standard JS.

Google, itself in a fight with Apple was quick to ally itself with Adobe and announce Flash support in Android during Google I/O. If I was Adobe however, I’d be a little worried because during that same conference, Google spent a few minutes on Flash and the rest of the conference talking about how HTML5 was the answer and how their JS engine was faster than the competition. Google is Adobe’s friend for now, because it gives them a way to differentiate themselves from Apple, but let’s face it, Google isn’t a huge fan of Flash. Just look at all the Google products. None of them ever use Flash, except for Youtube. The same Youtube that’s slowly moving to HTML5 and H.264.

Some people have construed by Anti-flash tweets as being anti-android but that really isn’t true. I’ll be blogging about Froyo soon, but I’ll say right away that I’m quite impressed and I’m glad to see some great competition for Apple. iPhoneOS needs to innovate. Hopefully that competition will help speed things up.

Flash for me is in the same category as IE6. It used to be great, it used to be the best way to go, but we’ve moved past and now it’s time to put it to rest. Adobe loves to say you don’t get the full web without Flash on the iPhone and iPad, but for the most part, all I’m missing these days is flash banners. Somehow, I think I’ll live.

Adding Hardware to Your Software

It’s fascinating to look at the multitude similarities and differences between Apple and Microsoft or even Google. One of the key differentiator is that Apple never releases only a software, they always pair it up with an hardware release whereas Microsoft rarely does. The reason is obvious, Microsoft chooses to work with 3rd party to create an “open” ecosystem whereas Apple does it all alone.

While there’s no denying Microsoft’s successes in the past (and even present) with the PC, embedded and portable devices are another world completely. Take a look at the iPod Touch, the iPhone or the iPad. Microsoft had a tablet PC all the way back in 2001 but the thing never caught on. It was an OK piece of software (Windows & Office, neither quite well adapted) tied to a series of OK devices by 3rd parties. Where Apple succeeds is by not only creating a great piece of software (the iPhone OS) but by also coupling it with a great piece of hardware of its own. What you get is the optimal use of that hardware and an attention to detail you don’t get when you have several 3rd parties working together to create a device.

A lot of people online clamor for a more open device from Apple or for Apple to license Mac OS X to PC manufacturers. To ask for that is to not understand what makes Apple products so compelling. You need that tight relationship with your hardware for the software to make any sense and vice-versa. An open-specced iPhone means multiple devices, some with a big screen, some with a small screen. Some with keyboards, some without. What you get, is the Android situation. A great OS tied to a potentially great App store crippled by the fact that 3rd parties are creating the phones and as such, there are tens of different configurations already and the App store is fragmented beyond belief because no small developer can support every phone. Let’s face it, none of us have 10 phones to test on.

This is why Google released the Nexus One. This is why Apple is dominating the App store business. And this is why the iPad will succeed to some extent. On day one, there will be more than 150 000 apps available for it. On day one, developers will make money on it. That’s unfortunately not the case with the myriads of other tablets that will be hitting the market in 2010.

Speaking of the iPad. I’ll have a full post on it early this week.

Google Public DNS Servers

This blog is rapidly becoming a blog about Google. That’s not the plan, but it seems Google makes the news every week with a crazy new initiative. This week : the Google Public DNS Servers.

Of course, there are other free alternatives (other than your ISP’s servers). OpenDNS has been a popular and quite reliable one for years. Google’s initiative is interesting because, well, it’s Google and that brings a lot of interesting questions (Google has a FAQ available).

The first one for many is one of privacy. That to me, is a non issue. For one thing, regardless of what you think Google may know about you or how much they care about you personally, remember that your ISP knows (or can know) a whole lot more than any web sites out there. Anything you type, anything you visit goes through them. Using Google as a DNS server is hardly threatening in my opinion.

The second question is why. Why is Google doing this? As with Chrome, Chrome OS and SPDY, Google lately is all about speed. They want to make the Web faster and DNS queries is one of the areas where a speed improvement could be achieved and Google jumped on the idea. For one thing, Google has tens of thousands of servers world-wide and Google must pay its bandwidth as cheaply as it’s humanly possible to at this point, so they are well positioned to enter the market.

Of course, a public DNS is also interesting because it’s yet another way Google can aggregate data about us and make their ads make even more sense. That’s not a popular thing to say, but you have to think that was one of the reasons behind the move and I mean, why not? If you’re going to show me ads, might as well show me stuff that might interest me.

Those worried about privacy need not apply however. As for me, I’ll enjoy the extra speed the service has brought me so far.

Please Think of the Search Engines!

There has been some rumors going around lately that Microsoft’s Bing search engine was interested in buying exclusivity for some Web content. This all started 2 weeks ago or so when Rupert Murdoch, the owner of The Wall Street Journal and many other news outlet said he was considering removing its news sites from Google because, according to him, Google has been stealing all the revenues with tools like Google News. When Microsoft heard of this, they of course did the only logical thing : offer an exclusive deal. I can’t blame them for this at all, I would do the same.

The problem here though is that search engines like Google and Bing work because they index everything. While an exclusive deal might seem like a good idea for Microsoft, I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen in the long run because the minute one such deal gets signed, many many others will be signed very quickly. I can’t be the only one thinking that having to visit multiple search engines because you’re not quite sure which site is on which search engine is a bad thing.

If you’re a Web developer, you know that the SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is already a mess. It’s all about optimizing your content and your code to make your search seem better to search engines. Hopefully this Rupert Murdoch thing is just a scare tactic on his part (while he may be sour on Google, I’m sure Google also brings them a ton of traffic, so I doubt he’d do it).

I’ll be watching this closely. I think it’s a crucial issue that’s just as important as Net neutrality. A search engine needs to be neutral and it needs to have access to every public content on the Web. Let the best indexer win and leave business out of it.