This blog entry is not really just about Google; it’s also about my perception of Google in relation to Apple and Microsoft. In some ways, I hate them all. But love’em or hate’em, Google, Apple and Microsoft are in the contest of the century to control everything technological. And while it might sound like a game, it’s very serious business. And the prize? Not just control of the technological ecosystem, but also piles and piles of cash.
Because of its size and all-encompassing interests, Google would appear to be the 800 pound gorilla in Google/Apple/Microsoft triumvirate. But that’s not quite right because we’re missing someone. Google is actually the 800 pound gorilla in a quadrumvirate that includes Apple, Microsoft and, also, Amazon.
Years ago, Google’s motto was “Don’t be Evil“. So far as I can tell, Microsoft was always evil. I don’t know if Apple is evil but, with its profit margins, it can certainly afford to be. And Amazon? I think the jury is out there too. Don’t get me wrong: this quadrumvirate has given us all a lot of stuff. “Google” is new a verb. “Windows “is a common punch line. “i[placeYourDeviceHere]” is a new class of noun. And Amazon now sells more stuff than Wal-Mart. The first three of these companies will let us merge our phone/table/laptop/desktop and virtual existences into their respective cyberworlds. They all claim to be concerned about security and privacy and even now, benevolently, even suggest that connectivity with their counterparts is a worthy goal. But what is the reality?
Since this blog entry is really about Google, its purpose is to highlight some of the issues I have discovered in the last several years working with Google and its products.
Google is a company that had been my hands-down favorite of the four biggies just a few years ago. But, having now tried a few of Google’s paid-for services, I now deal with Google with some trepidation. Of course, like so many others, I have long used Google’s search engine and GMail. But I have now also used Google’s Android, Adwords and Compute products, the last two of which are paid-for services. My new single best word to describe Google’s corporate culture is “arrogant”. I have never come across a company which seems to honestly believe that it can make no mistake worth addressing. The best example of this attitude is with Google Compute. Compute is Google’s public cloud, which can be rented on demand. It is broadly equivalent to Amazon’s AWS and Microsoft’s Azure. There are other, smaller companies, that also provide similar services like Digital Ocean, Vultr, Linode, Rackspace, Softlayer and many others. (See also my review of the first of these at LowEndTalk.) But Google does something bizarre when it sells computing resources: it offers no access to its technical support group. If something goes wrong with the service, a standard customer cannot contact technical support. At all. If you need to report a problem, or complain about a charge, you can only contact billing support. And if you really do want to contact their technical support group? Well, you can. For a minimum charge of $150 per month. Even if the technical issue if Google’s fault. I think that’s shortsighted. I think that’s arrogant. And, yes, I think that’s evil.
But what if Google is right? What if it is perfect and nothing ever goes wrong with its system? What if technical problems are always the fault of the customer? Well, having tried Google Compute’s free trial for 60 days, I can assure you that they have the same problems as everyone else. Virtual machines sometimes don’t start. Networking sometimes doesn’t work properly. And, most common of all, the client application called “Google Developers Console” gives delayed or erroneous information and hangs up regularly (even when using Google’s own Chrome browser). As a customer of many cloud service providers, I accept that none of the platforms is perfect and I would happily work with Google to improve its platform. But not if I can only contact billing support. Google has chosen a bizarre way to deal with a real or potential customer.
The shame of this indictment is that Google’s offering is, overall, really quite good. It’s cheaper than Amazon’s or Microsoft’s offerings and seems to provide similar service levels. As a cloud service, it’s still not as cheap as some of the lowest cost dedicated server providers like, say, Hetzner. But Hetzner’s dedicated server offerings don’t provide the myriad of advantages that the cloud providers offer.
What about other Google products and services? I recently switched to an Android cell phone. It wasn’t my first, but it was a big improvement on an Android phone I had several cell phones ago. My previous experience was with Android 2.2.2; now I have Android 5.0.2. At about $100, my new Motorola phone is inexpensive but provides excellent value. What most impressed me, however, is how well it handled the transition from my Windows 8.1 phone. In a way it was just a lucky coincidence that I had used GMail on my Windows phone. But, because of that happy accident, transitioning my contacts, including phone numbers and e-mails, was all but trivial.
Google == Microsoft?
Google is beginning to behave more like the company it said it would never be: Microsoft. I discovered to my chagrin that Google+ is beginning to permeate everything I do. When installing a game on my Android phone I had to set up a Google+ account, for which I decided to use an alias. I was dismayed to discover that my desktop browser then somehow magically changed its identity to the new alias. There was no warning of this. And undoing it turned out to be a nightmare, taking a full day of searching the internet for solutions. During some of my efforts I even received a critical Google server error that said “A team of highly trained monkeys has been dispatched to deal with this situation”. I took this cryptic error to mean that Google would have to investigate the issue and fix it manually. Eventually I managed to undo the changes caused by selecting a Google+ alias, but I still don’t exactly know how I did it. I don’t consider myself either stupid or technically illiterate so I can only imagine how this would affect a more typical user.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Google. But I’m not as enamored with the company as I used to be and I worry that it is morphing into a Microsoft-like company. I hope not. I hope it’s just part of its growing pains. But I’d love to see a new, nimbler, company take on the quadrumvirate of Google, Apple, Microsoft and Amazon. I think that’s what we need at this point. I think it will make Google a better company and introduce the customer-focused innovation that we seem to be losing. Let the games begin!