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We recently met up with Jon Lilly, Mozilla’s CEO. During our conversation he talked about the philosophical difference between Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox. Chrome, he suggested was “A window into the web”, marked by its lack of toolbars and its integration of Google’s web services.
This morning we woke up to the news that Chrome the browser is also the front end to Chrome the OS, a thin Linux kernel with a browser intended for netbooks. It’s not Android, but it shares some key concepts - and will run on Intel and ARM processors. There’s still a lot missing from what Google’s said, and much remains to be revealed when Chrome OS finally arrives on hardware - but part of me is wondering if Google has fallen into what I think of as “The Gilder Trap”.
George Gilder was sort of famous in the early days of the Internet. He wrote a couple of popular economics textbooks, and one of his suggestions was that wired and wireless would swap places. Data would flow through the airwaves, into pocket devices and all manner of mobile computing hardware. After all, in the air bandwidth was essentially free. Sadly he missed a trick or two. Bandwidth may be free, but the hardware needed to support it certainly wasn’t - and the back haul from base stations to the wider network needs to be hefty. Copper and fibre still remain the most bandwidth efficient way of delivering that last mile, and wireless data is really only just starting to get significant traction - and is already starting to creak at the seams, especially in busy city centres, as well as in the country. Even so, people still believe his 1990s words…
You may think the 50:1 contention ratio for your home DSL connection is high, but that’s nothing compared to the connectivity at a central London cellular base station. Your 3G data card may well be connected at 3 or even 7Mbps, but there’s often not more than a 1Mbps SDSL connection from the base station to the net - and you’re sharing that with everyone else. Trying to get email over a 3G dongle can be trial, especially at peak hours.
Now imagine having to do that with a million other people using Chrome OS-powered netbooks.