Monday, March 07, 2005

Google hack: Another titillating hint about the company's future?

A couple of days ago I recorded a podcast opining what the future of Google might be, and especially the quiet rumors these days that the company is secretly creating their own operating system, one that will eventually compete directly against Windows. Well, as pointed out by blogger Neville Hobson, a hacker in Denmark has recently created a new shell extension for Windows, that will treat a person's 1-gig Gmail account as a remote hard drive, one that you can directly connect to just like you would any external server. Even more interesting, the developer infers that in actuality it's a pretty easy trick, so easy in fact that Google might have set it up that way on purpose.

Okay, so, if I worked for Google (which I don't), and if we were secretly developing a new operating system (which, for the record, Google has never publicly addressed one way or the other), it seems that the first thing you'd have to do is figure out what you could offer customers that Windows doesn't. And given that Google's main asset right now is their online content, it would seem to me that the most powerful feature they could offer is an operating system that seamlessly blends one's hard drive and the internet into this synchronous whole. This is the biggest drawback of both MacOS and Windows, frankly, when it comes to the subject of getting online; both systems were originally created long before the days of always-on broadband connections, and so have had to add internet power one sloppy add-on piece at a time, with a customer usually having to open a specific application to do each specific online thing they want to accomplish (a browser to websurf, an email client to send letters, an FTP program to upload pages and images to a website, an RSS aggregator to collect headlines, etc).

If I were on the GoogleOS development team, then, I would take advantage of this weakness; since my team would be building a new operating system completely from scratch, we would have the ability to add internet access right into the operating system itself, with searching blending seamlessly with emailing, and RSS feeds, and one's desktop, one's preferences, etc. One of the ideas that Google could encourage, in fact, that would fit right into this strategy, would be the concept of an "internal" hard drive on your desktop, and a simultaneous "external" hard drive accessible on the internet. Such systems have been around now for years, of course, but have in the past always required using a clunky third-party application to access; if Google were to build an OS from scratch, though, they could seamlessly add such power right into the operating system itself, so that one's internet-based hard drive shows right up on the desktop as a clickable icon, just like the closed hard drive physically sitting inside of one's computer.

In this light, then, the news about this hack suddenly become very interesting indeed. Is Google experimenting themselves these days with the idea of a Gmail account doubling as a remote hard drive? If not, why not patch up the hole that's allowing this developer's shell extension to work in the first place? Oh my, it's always so much fun to try to guess what Google's going to do next!