Gmail may only be the beginning of a revolution that should make Microsoft very, very worried.
Here's a thought I hope to expand more on in the near future. Will Google's new free email system, Gmail, be just the first of many things we'll see in a new Google Desktop? If so, Microsoft could have a lot more to worry about than just Web search.
Today, plenty of people download mail to desktop-based email programs. But Google might convince some of them to take up its email storage offer.
After all, even if you do have a great way to search through desktop-based email, you might like the idea that all your mail is backed up, stored offsite, and easily searchable from anywhere.
Now, take things a step further. Imagine next year Google provides users with 5, 10, or more gigabytes storage space for personal files.
Got a ton of text documents, spreadsheets, and other material? Push it to us, Google would say. We'll store it, index it, and make it easy to retrieve what you want. Google already indexes this type of material across the Web and has done so for ages.
As broadband expands, such an idea becomes increasingly more feasible. With it, the notion that Microsoft might trump Google with desktop lock-in becomes less of an issue.
This recent AP article takes a fresh look at the search wars from Microsoft's defensive perspective. Google and Yahoo have become so prominent, they're almost part of the operating system, a layer, as John Battelle puts it, over Windows, Mac OS, or Linux.
Go still further. Google's move may be a harbinger of the redefinition of where our desktop resides, not just software-like applications we interact with but also where we store that data.
All this assumes people will trust Google with their data, of course. That's yet to be proven. Wired News and the San Jose Mercury News are only two of many publications with stories outlining privacy concerns some have raised, now that they're digesting the Gmail concept.
Google cofounder Larry Page is quoted by Mercury News as baffled by concerns. But although Google may have the best intentions, that's not true of many companies consumers deal with. That worst-case scenario can produce unease.
At breakfast this morning, I asked my wife what she thought of Gmail. Her feelings are mixed. She doesn't like the fact targeted ads will be shown, because she understood immediately Google would need to read her email. Even if done in an automated fashion, it left her feeling uneasy. Ultimately, she's decided she'll use it only for email she doesn't consider sensitive.
Convincing people like my wife to trust Google will be a challenge. But if Google can build that trust, people might have enough faith to move their data to a Google Desktop. And that might make Microsoft's presumed desktop power much weaker.
For more on privacy issues specific to search, see "Search Privacy At Google & Other Search Engines."
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