Chrome Dreams

On the Gillmor Gang yesterday, I ended the show with my pick for most important story of 2009, the release of Chrome for the Mac. Here’s why:

Chrome represents the leading edge of Google’s development platform for its version of the Web OS. Once Gears is embedded in a Mac client, Gmail Labs can start writing directly to the rich media store as it begins to build out across Google properties. This effectively levels the playing field with Mesh/Silverlight and takes a considerable chunk out out of Sun, Adobe, and Amazon Web Services at the developer level.

Having Google and Microsoft at a level platform above these other players also gives Apple considerable sway in maintaining a chokehold on the mobile device market. By enabling Gmail Labs services on the iPhone, Apple will provide AT&T and therefore the G1 carriers a revenue model for migrating carrier-controlled services to a new rich media paradigm over micromessaging and a rich media message bus.

The revenue will come from subsidized subscription affinity services, carried on top of the iPhone 3G Internet radio platform and streaming video news services. These affinitycasts will gain significant market share among realtime audiences, whose early signals will be highly predictive of the valuable swarming behavior so critical to surviving recessionary pressures. In a shrinking market, those nodes that raise targetable market share will skim the cream off the top before the commodity brokers can get to the suite spot in the market. It’s an interactive successor to the upfront market.

How Microsoft performs in this next period will tell the tale for the next major event in the technology marketplace. Those that look to a Yahoo absorption are really betting on what comes as a result of that move. Personally, I don’t think Yahoo as an entity matters one whit, but as a platform on which to roll out Silverlight Office, quite a bit. In many ways, Yahoo is like Lotus was pre-Y2K, when the email transition from DOS and Unix to Windows and Internet protocols was being waged between Microsoft, Netscape, and Lotus.

The most significant battle of that war was the integration of ccMail into Notes, which provided a rationale for Netscape to consolidate its suite of servers/acquisitions into a collaboration suite. In turn, Lotus pivoted to Interent protocols by layering an available IBM Web server on top of Notes to create Domino. Microsoft countered with the renegade Exchange team briefly wrestling Internet access to the file system away from the SQL Server team during an Internet Information Server option pack update to NT.

Though the coup was shortlived, when the SQL Server team regained control the resultant power shift in Redmond was consolidated under the rubric of .Net where it has remained to this day. The technologies underlying Outlook Web Access and its attendant APIs spawned client and server constituencies tha dominate today’s Web OS: AJAX on the client and ASP.Net on the server. Firefox ratified Ajax and the standards stub that reduced Internet Explorer to a subservient position in browser development, and Scott Guthrie rode ASP.Net to control of what is now the Silverlight platform.

These two power bases – controlled by Google and Microsoft – are being synchronized and ultimately merged into what from the developer perspective will be a single model. Chrome on the Mac gives a crucial audience – the new media – the tools it needs to deeply integrate the new technology base into the delivery systems of their content. The various cloud services can be rendered virtually identically across both Mesh/Silverlight and GLabs/Gears, and the differences will be largely a leapfrog update away from parity.

What’s more complex and difficult for the key audiences to absorb is the new landscape in which these players will operate. Those who persist in the notion of religious bragging rights – whether the new black of the “open stack” or whatever the old guard at Microsoft will exploit to try and FUD the new direction – will be driven out of contention. Those developers who architect their products to allow easy and automated switching between these and satellite platforms will survive and prosper when the inevitable threshold of enough money washed away produces economic stability for the hardy.

If the timing of the Chrome Mac client remains March, it will be coincident with Microsoft’s Mix ’09 conference, where it would make sense for Silverlight to be optimized for Chrome and the MacBook Air crowd. If you use the old record business as an analogy, we’re looking at the moment in ’66 when Rubber Soul and Revolver created the album market, which in turn allowed FM radio to replace Top 40 radio and overwhelm the media business. The creative drove the container, the massive redistribution of power that to most of us looked like the era of the singer/songwriter.

In 2008 Neil Young showed up onstage at JavaOne and DreamForce, talking about his decades-long Archives and green car projects respectively. 40-something years ago, Young wrote and recorded Ohio live with Crosby, Stills, and Nash – the track was on the radio and in the channel within 48 hours. Then it was Ahmet Ertegun and Warners, today it’s Benioff and Schwartz and Microsoft and Google.

Back then, I was one of those idiots who circled the Pentagon during the March on Washington. We all joined hands and chanted in an attempt to levitate the Pentagon. Of course it didn’t work, but I have to admit it: for a brief few seconds I opened my eyes and looked around to see if it did. When Chrome for the Mac ships, I’ll do that again.