Forrester calls Google's Chromebook 'corporate idiocy'

The world is moving away from the Web to mobile apps; Google could miss the boat, says George Colony

LAS VEGAS -- Let's begin this story the same way a murder mystery starts -- with a few bare facts. The victim is Google's Chromebook. The crime scene is Forrester's IT Forum here, and the alleged suspect is George Colony, chairman and CEO of the research firm.

In the opening scene, there is the Chromebook computer, our victim, trapped, with no place to hide or means to defend itself.

The Chromebook has no intelligence, no local storage, and only works when connected to the Web. Having sized up his victim, Colony then moves in.

The gunshot.

"I thought this was one of the greatest acts of corporate idiocy that I've ever seen," Colony said of Google's Chromebook.

CSI is now on the scene, so let's rewind the story and discover motive.

Chromebooks, based on Google's new Chrome OS, will be available next month. Colony's belief about Chromebook comes from a Forrester worldview that sees people gradually shifting away from the Internet to mobile-type apps as the primary means of getting information. The trend is driven by iPhone and Android phone users, he added.

Forrester calls the widespread use of mobile apps the "app Internet." The app Internet market has reached at $2.2 billion worldwide and is growing at an 85% annual compound rate, the researcher said.

"That is the architecture of the future," Colony contended.

Google is too Web-centric, he added. "They love the Web," said Colony.

There is a mitigating factor for Google: Its Android business does depend on mobile apps. But Colony noted that Google still makes nearly all its revenue from Web ads, which helps explain the Chromebook and why Google, as well as PC vendors, are "at risk" in making a transition to an app-focused world.

To adapt to the app Internet, hardware vendors like Hewlett-Packard and Dell will have to change their models, said Colony. A key question, he said: Can they reform the PC to live in an app Internet world?

Microsoft "gets it to an extent," said Colony, pointing to its Silverlight framework, which he praised for its potential as an app development platform.

In Forrester's new world, where people rely on apps rather than browsers, even companies like Facebook are at risk, argued Colony. He criticized Facebook for its lack of iPad apps and said a competitor could make "major trouble" for the company.

For his audience of IT professionals here, Colony said the transition to a focus on Apple- and Android-like apps will mean major changes. Among them, skills will have to be updated, since most apps are written in Objective-C, C++ and Mobile Java.

An app-centric universe also means changing the architecture of information delivery.

Andrei Palskoi, a principal consultant and solutions architect for FICO, a provider of analytics and decision management technology, said that if the model Colony described comes to pass, it will mean a shift to a decentralized architecture.

Today, he said, there's a centralized server and architecture; you give something to a computer, and it returns recommendations and approvals. But in the app world, some of the logic will be on the devices, which will be more independent.

You "can kind of guide the policies that [the apps] need to follow," but the actual steps and actions that they will make will be "on their own, without asking some mainframe," Palskoi added.

Mark Philhower, a consultant at IT Planning Associates, which focuses on performance and productivity improvements for CIOs, said he believes Forrester's app-centric forecast is for a distant future.

"I think we're a long way from there -- it's more of an idealized future that he's talking about it," said Philhower.

But Steven Ranly, a networking manager at a logistics industry firm that he asked not be named, does see a shift toward apps, especially among younger people.

"Everything is going toward apps -- they go the Internet very little, and go mostly to the apps that do what they need to do," said Ranly.

Patrick Thibodeau covers SaaS and enterprise applications, outsourcing, government IT policies, data centers and IT workforce issues for Computerworld. Follow Patrick on Twitter at @DCgov, or subscribe to Patrick's RSS feed . His e-mail address is pthibodeau@computerworld.com.

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