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MS Skype, Google ChromeBooks And Some Off-Color Commentary

BYTE Wireless Radio digs into the Google I/O Show and more.

I knew we were in deep when my colleague, Fritz Nelson, threw the F bomb. But we never said we were a family show.
On BYTE Wireless Radio, the 15 minute weekly show hosted by Craig Johnston and me, with Fritz Nelson often in tow, anything can and does happen while talking all things mobile.

On this week's show, we focused mainly on the Google I/O show, which Fritz and I did attend here in San Francisco this week. With utterly perfect timing, Microsoft unleashed its mind-blowing announcement of its $8.5 billion buyout of Skype an hour before the show started.

Excepting some rumors the night before, no one saw this coming. Heck, my sources have been telling me a Skype IPO was imminent.

Craig and Fritz were generally optimistic about the idea, and they explain why on the show. It's a win for IT, if executed well. "It could be yummy," Fritz said, "as long as Microsoft doesn't $%$ it up." There you have it. Personally, I think there are a myriad of ways Microsoft could mess up Skype, though Fritz and Craig don't agree. Listen here as we get into it.

For starters, I worry that the influx of customers Microsoft brings from Xbox Live, Windows Mobile, and Bing alone will turn Skype into a Twitterish nightmare--a service constantly going up and down due to traffic. I also don't believe Microsoft will keep this VoIP service free or improve Skype's terrible privacy problems.

Fritz thinks Microsoft could meld Lync and Skype into a serious enterprise and consumer unified communications offer.

Well, I always wondered what Microsoft would do once the Department of Justice removed the handcuffs. This is probably just the beginning of a rash of Microsoft buying and imo, the beginning of the end for free, quality Skyping.

Peter Baer Galvin, a senior BYTE contributor and working CTO in Burlington, MA, thought Microsoft should've rolled its own.

"Microsoft already has hundreds of millions of end users. Why should they (have to) buy more--or likely many of the same ones? Couldn't they have developed a good VoIP platform, released apps for multiple platforms, and solved the problem at lower cost? I think they overspent and that the mighty have fallen to the point of buying rather than building," said Baer Galvin, adding that he remembered when Microsoft was known for its excellent engineering. "I remember MS more for its marketing chops, but I do remember back in the day, when Microsoft bought a company, it was to kill it."

In a 15-minute show like BWR, there was scarce little time to get into the myriad announcements at the Google I/O show, which gave attendees free tablets (I demurred) and pass codes to its new Music Beta cloud service. I nabbed that one and gave my code to BYTE executive editor Brian Burgess, who did a rapid hands-on preview.

Also announced at the show was a minor upgrade to the Google's mobile OS, Android (Honeycomb) 3.1, and the name (though few details) of its next major mobile OS release, Ice Cream Sandwich, due in the fourth quarter. For developers, Google announced a new location-based API for Google Places and the developers will now be able to use +1 button (akin to Facebook's Like button) in just a few weeks. Yawn. Unless I'm on the show, I like to keep my whereabouts unknown.

But the real news, we all agreed, was Google's unveiling of its Google Chrome OS powered notebooks, better known now as ChromeBooks. These are Internet-only, closed and managed systems with a resulting low total cost of ownership (TCO). Acer and Samsung are coming up with models beginning at around $400 in mid-June, which is a little costly for net-only system. But I thought Google's subscriber model for schools and businesses was alluring--and reminiscent of Larry Ellison's Network Computer vision. (DISCLOSURE: I was CEO, and co-founder with Ellison, of The New Internet Computer Company, which he funded). The NIC was also a closed system with low TCO and an attractive subscriber model like the one Google is announcing, but customers had a hard time getting their head around something that was net only.

We all agreed IT is going to have to get its head around this idea, too, before it goes much further.

BYTE's launch team, which evenly represents journalists and IT, didn't go nuts for the idea.

ChromeBooks "look like a pretty sweet deal for small business--the most likely to be using Googledocs--but there are still questions surrounding their security," said University of Maryland's lead incident handler and BYTE Senior Contributor Rob Maxwell. "Mostly it looks like a locked down, browser-only affair, but in the announcement they said it was designed (for jail-breaking.)

"That doesn't bode well for security concerns," Maxwell said. "Larger organizations that aren't even comfortable with putting their data in the cloud are certainly not going to bite, nor will hard-core users of the advanced functionality built into on-disk apps."

David Biedny, one of BYTE's core group of technologists and a lecturer at Yale, was just as hard on Google's reconfiguration of Larry's Big Idea, but for different reasons.

"The ChromeBook will have an impact on some portion of the educational market, but in terms of college level students--or any professionals--working on media projects involving video, audio, or significant amounts of digital image data, it's a non-starter. The limitations of web-based applications become apparent when dealing with rich media production or consumption, (especially) considering the looming issues surrounding metered bandwidth and streamed audio and video content.

Call me a believer, but after all these years, I still believe a closed, net-only system that's secure and offers low TCO should be a slam-dunk in schools and small-to-mid sized companies. The upgrade cycle is ridiculous. We'll see if the idea can fail twice in 15 years. Better ones have.

And we'll see soon. Google promised one ChromeBook for every attendee on launch in mid-June. It's nice to be rich.

For the relaunching BYTE, Techweb and InformationWeek, I'm Gina Smith.

Gina Smith is launch editor of BYTE, coming in July. Follow her on Twitter @ginasmith888 and BYTE @BYTE. Follow Craig @ibanyan and Fritz @fnelson.

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