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Blue Screen of Google death?
January 3, 2006 8:49 AM   Subscribe

Google and Wal-Mart to launch the Google Computer [GoogleFilter] - Rumor-merchants around the industry are abuzz with speculation that Google is about to launch a no-frills, $200 networked computer via (ahem) Wal-Mart. They will also announce Google Cubes, media and home automation control devices. Will this be a watershed event or an infamous folly? Film at 11.
posted by LondonYank (61 comments total)

 
Meh. These rumors are pretty far-out. I doubt that Google would move into the home PC market right now. It's just not the kind of thing they do well, and they know it. My money's on Google building new programming tools for writing web-based applications that can be run from the browser regardless of your OS.
posted by unreason at 8:52 AM on January 3, 2006


From I, Cringely back in November:
But the most important reason for Google to distribute its data centers in this way is to work most efficiently with a hardware device the company is thinking of providing to customers. This embedded device, for which I am afraid I have no name, is a small box covered with many types of ports - USB, RJ-45, RJ-11, analog and digital video, S-video, analog and optical sound, etc. Additional I/O that can't be seen is WiFi and Bluetooth. This little box is Google's interface to every computer, TV, and stereo system in your home, as well as linking to home automation and climate control. The cubes are networked together wirelessly in a mesh network, so only one need be attached to your broadband modem or router. Like VoIP adapters (it does that too, through the RJ-11 connector) the little cubes will come in the mail and when plugged in will just plain work.
posted by LondonYank at 8:53 AM on January 3, 2006


I don't think Google is likely to create a desktop PC anytime soon. All of their expertise is in search and web servers. If anything, they'll release a home version of their search appliance. I picture something you plug into your linksys router, configure from a web browser in 30 seconds and that indexes and/or serves media files and maybe has some PVR functionality.

It'll probably run on linux, but it's not really relevant, because no one will ever touch the OS directly.
posted by empath at 8:56 AM on January 3, 2006


Bleh. Back in 1997 Microsoft tried this with WebTV, when the buzzword was "network computer" and it quietly died. There's a very limited market for crippled PCs.
posted by StarForce5 at 8:58 AM on January 3, 2006


I welcome our new Google Cube overlords, and have a space in my machine room for one.

Think about it - they can also function as distributed processing nodes, with someone else (us!) providing the power and bandwidth.
posted by mrbill at 8:59 AM on January 3, 2006


Google has a 127 billion dollar market cap. They have to do something that could possibly justify that valuation.
posted by delmoi at 9:00 AM on January 3, 2006


Don't think of it as a crippled PC, but as an easy-to-configure web/file server.

How many geeks out there have linux boxes that they only access through a shell, web-browser or ftp? Those aren't 'crippled' computers. Having a home file/web/search server could be damn useful to a lot of people, if you don't have to worry about doing any of the configuration yourself.
posted by empath at 9:01 AM on January 3, 2006


To put that into perspective, that's half as much as Microsoft. And more then DELL. I just used Google to figure that out (you get stock quotes when you search for a symbol) but Google needs to, eventually make half as much money per PC then Microsoft. They're not going to get $100/box/year (or whatever) just serving up text ads on their homepage. or swank AJAX.
posted by delmoi at 9:02 AM on January 3, 2006


Bleh. Back in 1997 Microsoft tried this with WebTV, when the buzzword was "network computer" and it quietly died. There's a very limited market for crippled PCs.

There were fewer people using digital cameras, MP3s, and other digital media back then, too.

i'm scared of google
posted by keswick at 9:11 AM on January 3, 2006


Back in 1997 Microsoft tried this with WebTV, when the buzzword was "network computer" and it quietly died

It did?

October 5, 2004: Microsoft Announces the New MSN TV 2 Internet & Media Player

Sure, it didn't become a huge hit, but they *do* sell.
posted by mrbill at 9:12 AM on January 3, 2006


By the way, Cringely's prognostication skils are rather lacking. He just dreams up whatever he things would be cool, and then says companies are going to do that.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 AM on January 3, 2006


We've seen repeated rumors that Google is building a new operating system to compete with Windows. The rumors are sometimes started by analysts who note that Google has hired a large number of OS researchers and developers.

The reality, as far as I can tell, is that these researchers are focused on Google's internal systems and servers rather than any product for public consumption. Systems suitable for Google's internal environment and unique needs are probably of little interest to, say, home computer users.

I can believe that Google will announce new data centers or new hardware products for businesses (like the Google Search Appliance), or that they'll add some sort of branding or tie-ins to Wal-Mart's low-cost Linux computers (for Google, more computer users equals more potential advertising revenue). But I'd be pretty surprised to see major new home computer hardware or software actually developed by Google.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:16 AM on January 3, 2006


sacrifice: There's a very limited market for crippled PCs.

The difference here is two fold. Google has a reputation for not crippling its services, but rather for finding moderately unobtrusive ways of making money of of very useful services. Also, $200 might be enough for a very useful device today, it was not nearly enough back in the days of webTV.

Oh ya, one more. With broadband access doing something like word processing in a browser is actually a reasonable proposition.
posted by Chuckles at 9:16 AM on January 3, 2006


Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful.

Way outside Google's mission statement. Keeping this quiet for so long? I doubt it. There would be some really large deals that would be hard to keep quiet about, from suppliers to Wal-Mart sales. Especially for a company without established busines contacts. Surely they made contact with companies and that fell through. I see no sources, just speculation by a Bear Sterns analyst.
posted by geoff. at 9:18 AM on January 3, 2006


To me it sounds like they are going after Apple more than Microsoft. The Guardian article talks more about the "cube" than anything else and it doesn't seem like a crippled pc, ala WebTV. Instead it sounds like a home media center. Sure, Microsoft has the Windows Media Center edition, but Apple is the one that has really been pushing that direction. I think thte comparison to the mini-mac in the article might be apt.

Why would Google want to do this and why would a consumer want to buy it? DRM. Microsoft is terribly addicted to DRM. Paying for software is practically something they invented. Apple has a love hate relationship with DRM. They love people using their iPods to play mp3's, but they want to make sure you can only put files onto your iPod and not transfer them to another computer. And of course, they would love it if you bought them through the iTunes store.

Google doesn't sell software. They have been pushing the boundaries of "acceptable use" in many areas (see google print, google video, google news). They make money off of people aquiring and distributing information. The more of that that happens and they can get somewhere near it, the more money they make. So a cheap, open-source based PVR with built in media indexer and search engine? Hell yeah.
posted by afflatus at 9:19 AM on January 3, 2006


What CPU will it have in it?
posted by eas98 at 9:23 AM on January 3, 2006


Did Google recently buy a company that makes these sorts of things, or is it an in house development?
posted by sindark at 9:24 AM on January 3, 2006


My money's on Google building new programming tools for writing web-based applications that can be run from the browser regardless of your OS.

They're going to invent Java?
posted by HTuttle at 9:50 AM on January 3, 2006


Isn't Google's motto "do no evil"? How then could they partner with Wal*Mart?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:59 AM on January 3, 2006


delmoi: Google is growing their earnings faster than Microsoft, that's why the valuation is what it is. A dollar of GOOG earnings, at the moment, is worth more than a dollar of MSFT earnings because of the difference in growth expectations. I'm not sure if this is the case at the moment, but a few months ago Yahoo! was valued higher on a price/earnings basis than was Google.
posted by mullacc at 10:02 AM on January 3, 2006


They're going to invent Java?
posted by HTuttle at 12:50 PM EST on January 3 [!]


Basically, yes. Either a better, safe plug-in language, or some kind of advanced AJAX toolkit that doesn't require a plug-in.
posted by unreason at 10:02 AM on January 3, 2006


From I, Cringely back in November:

That is pure Star Trek fantasy. Cringley is such a god damn idiot.
posted by kjh at 10:09 AM on January 3, 2006


"Isn't Google's motto "do no evil"? How then could they partner with Wal*Mart?"

I was okay with google taking over the world, but to team up with one of the biggest bullies in school really gets me T.O.-ed.
posted by gunthersghost at 10:21 AM on January 3, 2006


That is pure Star Trek fantasy. Cringley is such a god damn idiot.

No, it's not. But yes, he is.
posted by chundo at 10:23 AM on January 3, 2006


"Bleh. Back in 1997 Microsoft tried this with WebTV, when the buzzword was "network computer" and it quietly died. There's a very limited market for crippled PCs."

Actually, WebTV started it, and was purchased by Microsoft. They simply renamed it MSN TV and it's still an active product. It hasn't died yet.
posted by drstein at 10:34 AM on January 3, 2006


As fun as this thread is, literally all of the speculation you are seeing in the media comes from a single gossip-column "predictions for 2006" from the the LA Times.

There's nothing here, folks.
posted by Dunwitty at 10:43 AM on January 3, 2006


The problem that I see with this is that a Google appliance would have to run either Linux or a BSD to make the price point, and that none of Google's desktop apps actually support either of those types of OS's -- nor has it been said anywhere that such support was forthcoming.

I doubt Google would ship a set-top box that couldn't use its own services.
posted by clevershark at 10:47 AM on January 3, 2006


Thanks dunwitty.

I couldn't imagine Google doing business with Wallyworld.

Of course, I was shocked to hear they bought AOL stock too so ...

What fff said.
posted by nofundy at 10:50 AM on January 3, 2006


Anyone who will pay $50/month for broadband already owns a real PC, or perhaps 3.

If the supposed Google-Walmart box is a web surfing appliance that hooks to your TV and requires broadband (or is more useful with broadband) then chances are anyone who can afford broadband already has a full-blown PC.

If instead the Google-Walmart box is more like a file server to augment home networks then that could be cool.
posted by StarForce5 at 11:19 AM on January 3, 2006


The network pc and thin client has been done by several bright companies over the years, I hope we have the perfect storm of cost, power, and availablity to finally make it happen.
posted by Mitheral at 11:29 AM on January 3, 2006


No, it's not. But yes, he is.
posted by chundo at 10:23 AM PST on January 3 [!]


Give me a break. A "four ounce" computer with a myriad of inputs, outputs, ports, capabilties? VoIP, media center, "home alarm and automation systems," "end-to-end elliptical encryption," "distributed as widely as AOL CD's"? If this isn't fantasy of the highest caliber, then I'm Gene fucking Roddenberry.
posted by kjh at 11:32 AM on January 3, 2006


"Isn't Google's motto "do no evil"? How then could they partner with Wal*Mart?"

That's the first thing I was thinking after I heard the news. That is seriouly shaking my faith.

As far as Cringely being an idiot, I respect your opinion but fully expect an apology from both of you if he turns out to be right. I haven't seen anything idiotic from the man before so I think your critique is harsh.

Whether or not the speculation is true or not, the rumors alone are enough to push GOOG up $14 as I write this.
posted by daHIFI at 11:33 AM on January 3, 2006


And on second thought while the AOL deal did break my heart I do see the neccessity of Google doing such a deal.

kjh, while MS is losing a couple hundred dollars on Xbox 360 sales, Imagine if Google did decide to give this thing away. Look at how much money they make giving away search results.
posted by daHIFI at 11:36 AM on January 3, 2006


They don't "give away" search results anymore than CBS "gives away" the nightly news. See those "Sponsored Links" on your results page? And the text ads--soon to be full-size regular-old banner ads--on every stupid site on the Internet?

If Cringely turns out to be right I will eat my hat AND yours. The device of his description has MORE capability than an Xbox 360, a LOWER suggested price, and absolutely NO suggestion as to how the difference would be made up. Microsoft can sell their console for a loss not only because of their massive cash reserves, but more importantly their expectation to push through high margin accessories, games, and Xbox Live Marketplace content. What could possibly do the same for Google's magic free-energy do-everything microscopic cube?
posted by kjh at 11:55 AM on January 3, 2006


I hope this is just rumor. I think so far Google has managed to stick to its "Don't be evil" ideal. A partnership with Wal-Mart, infamous exploiter of human rights and labor and exporter of jobs, would be the antithesis of such a policy.
posted by poorlydrawnplato at 11:57 AM on January 3, 2006


Ultralight broadband is as cheap as $20/month in Ontario, and that is certainly fast enough for web enabled office applications and VOIP.

As for the cost of the machine, I think this stuff is cheaper than some here think. For example, the idea that MS is losing any money on an xbox 360 sale is hard for me to swallow, it depends entirely how you discount the R&D expenses. Consider a hybrid of a Linksys WRT54G with philips 642 DVD player, both $50 items, add a little more memory and a little more processor horsepower... It isn't too hard to imagine that $200 today can buy a pretty impressive piece of hardware. The questions are all related to how open and capable the manufacturer would want to make such a thing, and what company feels that building it is worth the risk.
posted by Chuckles at 11:59 AM on January 3, 2006


For example, the idea that MS is losing any money on an xbox 360 sale is hard for me to swallow

Yawn. This is established fact. Business Week thinks its $126 per console. Other estimates put it at quite a bit more. Forbes says the Xbox division at Microsoft has lost $4 billion and counting. Microsoft's own sincerest hopes and dreams are to acheive profitability by July 2006.
posted by kjh at 12:12 PM on January 3, 2006


Is this like a Commodore 64 plus 25 years of HW dev?

I sure hope dirt-cheap computers are coming because I need a couple of non-gameboxes around here for writing and browsing. Text editor + browser + fast connection = enough for me.
posted by pracowity at 12:27 PM on January 3, 2006


This rumor has multiple sources, and I believe it. Its pretty clear that cringley has seen a sample of the box since he describes it. And its not far out that a device like that could sell for 100 bucks: it doesnt have the expensive componenets like graphics processors, high end cpus, or harddrives.
Probably its not actually made by google either, its just a rebranded e-machine or something.
posted by Osmanthus at 12:44 PM on January 3, 2006


And its not far out that a device like that could sell for 100 bucks: it doesnt have the expensive componenets like graphics processors, high end cpus, or harddrives.

That's just baloney. Without graphics processors how is it going to be a media center? Will the aether process the high-def signals that this thing will allegedly handle? Can a toaster do "end-to-end" encryption? How is it going to handle home automation tasks without persistent storage? And just how is it going to magically interface with your thermostat, anyway? Speaking of that media center, where does the software come from? Can Google have possibly built a TiVo or Windows Media Center rival without ANYONE knowing?

This is Google veneration at its most slavish, irrational, and disgusting. The company makes a search engine that works very, very well, and a handful of simple software accessories. What makes anyone think that they could have developed such a fantastic device when they aren't and never have been a hardware company and they're barely a software company? Utterly ridiculous and embarrassing.

Expect to see a small, wussy network terminal like the Earthlink Mailstation. This one will be lighter and prettier. Maybe it will use your television as a display (the source of those outlandish media center rumors). But don't bet on it being a big seller. ANYONE who has an Internet connection already has a PC!
posted by kjh at 1:11 PM on January 3, 2006


kjh, you are quite insulting, why?

That BusinessWeek estimate is quite suspect. I can buy a complete DVD player for $30 CAD and they claim MS is paying $21 for the drive alone? I can buy a 512mb DIMM for $45 CAD and they claim $65? I can buy a Logitech wireless rumble pad for under $20 CAD and a computer power supply for less than $15 CAD yet they figure $55 for supply controller and other cables? Nobody outside microsoft knows the real numbers, but in any case "it depends entirely how you discount the R&D expenses".

Understand, I don't have any idea how likely it is that this google product actually exists, but $200 (or about $100 parts cost, I guess) can go a long way if you have the will and the pockets to do a proper job.
posted by Chuckles at 1:22 PM on January 3, 2006


If you want to compare generic Logitech pads and cheap RAM to the seamless 360 controller and its GDDR3 memory, you could certainly build a less expensive box, but that's thoroughly disingenous.

About as disingenous, in fact, as suggesting you can buy anywhere near the functionality of what's being suggested here for $200. The Earthlink Mailstation I referred to retailed for $200 in 2002 and it was a steaming turd. The absolutely least you can pay for a media center PC is ~$500. Microsoft can afford to sell the Xbox 360 for less by subsidizing it with software sales. Google won't have that option. Seems pretty cut-and-dry to me.
posted by kjh at 1:34 PM on January 3, 2006


kjh, you are quite insulting, why?

I was just going to ask that. Lines like "This is Google veneration at its most slavish, irrational, and disgusting." are way over the top for a discussion of a damned consumer product.
posted by pracowity at 1:38 PM on January 3, 2006


Considering the amount of money that Google pushes out to open source it's completely possible that they are already well on thier way to having the software available. And as far as cheap hardware goes, has anyone ever thought about how much processing power your cable modem has that goes unused? I remember talk over 18 months ago that discussed possible hacked firmware for Motorola / Toshiba modems that would make them defacto routers and add the ability to convert those Musicbox audio channels straight out to RCA's. As Chuckles said, add a little more CPU and memory, some firewire USB and WiFi connections and you got yerself a nice device for less than $200.

kjh you see what I meant when I said they 'give' away thier search results. We can debate the priciple of attention as currency some other time, what I'd like to point out is that Cringely has written a lot in the past few weeks on what Google might be up to.

I think I read a rumor that Google was considering buying Yahoo for the tune of some $80 billion. While that may be a drop in the hat to MS, Google could still give away a lot of cubes for that much money. The only thing missing from the equation currently is how they plan to make it back. Then again, that's what everyone said about their search portal years ago.

Considering the anti-Google backlash from the major broadband providers, Google's dark fiber purchase and everything else that they have been up to. I'm sure whatever they're announcing on Friday will be big.

And as I told someone earlier today when Piper Jaffray raised Google stock price target to $600, either we're on the edge of a big bubble or on the edge of something really huge.
posted by daHIFI at 1:44 PM on January 3, 2006


to the nay-sayers: has Google taken a misstep yet?

[but the Wal*Mart connection is troubling.]

as for graphics/multi-media capabilities of such a machine: who says you need a full-on SLI nVidia card to run quality video? I get decent image quality - and dual heads! - out of my six year old Matrox Millennium card ["product may not be as pictured"]. how much do you think it costs to make a 32MB video card these days? And there are $20 DVD players you can buy in the megamarkets of most major cities that will put out progressive-scan images in NTSC/PAL, play jpegs, mp3s, kodak photocds, fuji photocds, etc.

add a mid-power pentium chip (1 GHz should suffice), a $4 mouse, an $8 keyboard, and an open-source-based OS...

this doesn't seem impossible to me.

And M$ is eating a lot of the costs of an Xbox 360 console right now, as they did with the original release, counting on sales volume later to make up the current margin shortfall. they've got deep pockets, they can do it. Sony will probably lose money on the first round of PS3 machines for the same reason, and in the end they'll sell like hotcakes, and they'll make money as the manufacturing ramps up.

the only reason I can see to get upset by this news is if you just paid $2,000 for your new kick-ass PC, to discover you don't really game much anymore, and all you use it for is email, some light word processing, and web surfing...
posted by Al_Truist at 1:46 PM on January 3, 2006


and kjh seems to think everything has to be cutting-fucking-edge or it's garbage...y'know, you can surf with a 486 processor under the hood...it's not as Xtreem™ as some might like, but we all have differing expectations, don't we?
posted by Al_Truist at 1:54 PM on January 3, 2006


Google's era of "do no evil" is over if they are indeed partnering with Wal-Mart.

Too bad since I was kinda liking Google...
posted by potuncle at 2:02 PM on January 3, 2006


kjh making a classic strawman argument.
posted by event at 2:02 PM on January 3, 2006


I don't think that partnering with Walmart would be evil.

Evil would be if they hired twelve year old slaves to build the computers.
posted by I Love Tacos at 3:10 PM on January 3, 2006


Google and Walmart will NOT be working together.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:24 PM on January 3, 2006


Yawn. This is established fact. Business Week thinks its $126 per console. Other estimates put it at quite a bit more. Forbes says the Xbox division at Microsoft has lost $4 billion and counting. Microsoft's own sincerest hopes and dreams are to acheive profitability by July 2006.
posted by kjh at 3:12 PM EST on January 3 [!]


Thanks for the info. No thanks for the insulting "Yawn" it started out with. I guess you just know everything.
posted by juiceCake at 4:17 PM on January 3, 2006


Microsoft is getting ready to start MSN TV 2 launch on Xbox 360. Xbox 360 is going to be its new Internet TV In a box. Soon you will be able to buy TV shows directly online and view them on your TV.
posted by IronWolve at 5:53 PM on January 3, 2006


Soon you will be able to buy TV shows directly online and view them on your TV

Wait, you can't do that already? Oh, you said buy them. Nevermind then, carry on.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 8:35 PM on January 3, 2006


Google's Director of Corporate Communications , David Krane, responded to this Google PC speculation today:

"Nah, I don't think so."
posted by bragadocchio at 8:38 PM on January 3, 2006


wow, this is the second thread I can recall in which the Cringely diss was a major sideshow. I think the feenom merits some research. What's up with the hatin'? Links, examples, anecdotes: all are welcome.
posted by mwhybark at 8:53 PM on January 3, 2006


I don't know. I looked at that Cringley quote and it read to me as more of a Airport Express type of device that you I would imagine would control from your computer much like AirTunes works. Plug your lamp into it and you can set your lamp to come on at a certain time or even remotely. Maybe LocationFree TV type functionality.
posted by Restlessavenger at 11:19 PM on January 3, 2006


Existing $219.84 Walmart computer.
posted by Chuckles at 12:43 AM on January 4, 2006


IronWolve - you can do that right now in the UK on a Telewest digital box - the line up is thin at the moment but that will only increase as times go by. It's not that complex to stream TVOD.
posted by longbaugh at 4:03 AM on January 4, 2006


More information from the Scotsman that seems to point to Wyse being involved (which would make sense from a dumb-terminal point of view).
posted by LondonYank at 5:19 AM on January 4, 2006


The Register reports that Google has denied the story.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 11:48 AM on January 4, 2006


Huh, looks like I was right all along!
posted by kjh at 11:58 AM on January 4, 2006


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