July 15th, 2008
Google shouldn’t be trying to make generic apps easier to use on the web. Email, IRC, IM, wikis, forums, and social bookmarking have an evolved interface balancing generality with complexity. They are also not stand alone programs that can have the network part removed like a word processor. Even if all the technical browser/script problems are solved, what will Google Apps offer other than a plethora of features bolted on to something resembling a wiki? It’s generic.
Features can increase generality, but at some level of generality the competing technology becomes Sqlite, Linux, or Java; not MS Word. I’ve witnessed the humor of a Salesforce tech-support conference call. My client was using a form that posted to Salesforce and was trying to add some work-flow features on the Salesforce end. What I heard astounded me, the client was getting a lesson in scripting from the tech. I left the call early, glad my part was limited to creating the form. A solution can go in two directions as it becomes more general; more abstract, or more complex. MS Word and Powerpoint embrace complexity. Programming languages lean toward abstraction. Either way, generic solutions are always harder to use.
The MS Office suite thrived because it made it easy to share. Embrace, extend, extinguish. One app to open them all! The complexity was necessary for generality, and generality was necessary for sharing. On the isolated PC there wasn’t room for a special version of Powerpoint for teaching with another for pitching sales. Word had to handle letters, resumes, and instruction manuals, in formats including HTML, text, and binary. It had to interface with Access and embed Excel documents, and each of those programs had to share well with others in the suite. It was a very capable one-size-fits-all solution that was very complex as a result.
With the web offering effectively unlimited storage on top of easy distribution and sharing, there is no longer a need for one-size-fits-all suites. New apps can depart from the generic view of the suite and approach problems directly. There should not be a Powerpoint of the Web . Instead, applications should specialize so that one for e.g. teaching aircraft systems or training sales reps will bundle a tailored likeness of Powerpoint. Slides in this new hypothetical software might pull facts from manuals or link to simulations, each of which is another specialized application, reiterating the importance of sharing. Thus, The Web
Google Apps solve the problem of sharing by offering a uniform API (so 1990), on the web (so 2000). In contrast the new application suite will have as many APIs as there are applications, and as many applications as there are problems to solve. Google Apps are generic and lame.