Big fan. Really big fan.
I do like flashiness and eye candy when it is available. But that can be like the first snow effect. Looks good and feels good on the first day and only feels cold after the novelty leaves. What you need along with eye candy is good personal usability with minimal maintenance. Some manage to deliver it well so you can briefly come back to it later but it is really hard when both go wrong (read: Vista).
Microsoft Windows is like a socially conformist fair-weather friend. Everything is there at a superficial level, there are no goodies inside and no effort is made to change that yet people compromise and put up with it because they do not want to think beyond it. That is why Vista was still a success for Microsoft despite its big flaws. This is why Windows 7 will be a big hit like XP was.
Don't get me wrong - I do not blindly hate Microsoft, Apple or anyone else for the matter. Apple's hardware quality and design is near unbeatable. The day Microsoft does come out with a real quality product (in the lines of Excel '97 say) I will be one of the first to pick it up. However Microsoft has become lax and completely dependent on its market monopoly (resulting from various factors) and this mentality is reflected even in their "I'm a pc" ads. All innovation has gone out the 'window' and whatever is assembled is a cheap imitation of something original made by someone else. The "innovation" of the second half of the 90s as ruled by Microsoft was to make bigger meaner machines that simply take more load thrown at them. From a corporate perspective that may work effectively but from an academic and long term perspective it simply is not beautiful enough. How can McDonald's be the definitive element for satisfactory dining?
However the new millennium has gone back to defining innovation as an original product that can do better with lesser needs and an addictive interface that culminate into a great user experience (read: Wii, iPod) and Google
has had a lion's share in bringing that back. Writing code is an art and Google, in that sense, is the Picasso of the current generation. Google's code-writers focus on how pretty the code is rather than what the end product is and have brought sexy back doing just that. Yeah they are a company too. They look at profiteering and gaining market share. But how they do it sets them apart. Indeed the compromising existence of a Windows user is relatively unfelt primarily because of what Google offers to balance their experience.
So here are twenty of the top ideas from Google that have changed our user experience for the better. I originally intended for ten but honestly there were too many ideas that were getting honourable mentions and I had to do them justice as a loyal fan:
Honourable mentions: Google Voice, Bots, Latitude, Sketchup, Ads, Vision, Blogger - Really I cannot allow past 20. The reader is bored already.
20. Images - Simple size control and customizable searches make this image search a winner over the others. No brainer.
19. Health - Unified health information for anxious minds. Great search based on input medical records. No Ads. Free for use. No profit for Google yet better than alternatives.
18. Code - This is what makes Google likeable to the free and open source community that is pretty much a closet bunch on platforms outside BSD and Linux. It is important that someone bigger than Canonical and IBM should promote open source development. Not only does it help release good developer ideas under public licences but also gives them tools to work with. And it holds a lot of personal good for Google to see all of this code and pick ones that are the coolest as personified by the Google Summer of code program. It really helps recruiting at Google as well, as it attempts to pick the best lateral thinkers thereby keeping its turnover as innovative as ever.
17. Video - Used to host videos until a month ago. Now functions as a pure search engine. It was a great idea to buy youtube.com as a video hosting site. Google video picks up from more sites and has a continually cleansed repository that makes it more child friendly than the yahoo alternative. The best part is that Web 2.0 based stats are available even for sites that do not offer that service.
16. Shopping and checkout - Froogle revamped. Great for cheap buyers who do not wish to risk some random seller on eBay. Even better for those who just want to get an idea on pricelines and the price-value trade-off. Not only are prices graded but products reviews are picked up as well.
15. Chromium - Really how much time would it have taken before Google forayed into a browser that best suits its vision and applications? The open source shell behind Chrome has just made its pre-release entries into the Unix word but even before that, it has done in just a year, what Firefox and Seamonkey were failing at - acquire market share from the dreadful and dangerous Microsoft Internet Explorer. Unfortunately, despite being open-source, it stays elusive to Unix-based developers who were the primary minds behind critically acclaimed Firefox plugins which is why its not higher up my list. But despite that limitation, it still has used its uncanny speed to rapidly garner fans much better than Firefox did. It scared Microsoft so much that they protested about Chrome potentially gaining complete monopoly if they provided it as part of Windows 7. Wonderful attitude.
14. Sites - The swanky new revamp of Page Creator is a futuristic tool. Where most page-makers are sticking to evolutionary changes, Sites has a wiki based approach that really makes it count. One does not have to bother about html's upgrades hampering website upgrades. Make a site like I write this blog.
13. Talk - Clearly there was something wrong with MSN and Yahoo messenger beyond their excessive options and slow interfaces. Talk did what Twitter's doing now. That is powerful.
12. Android - Nothing scared rival companies like the Android. Primarily because it embraced the FOSS ideology. Google first scared competitors by acquiring Android and releasing the Linux-based mobile OS. Then it did something scarier - it handed it over to the Open Handset Alliance to self-sustain. No it has not really affected the iPhone or Windows Mobile market much. But it has started off the first ever major open-source mobile software initiative that could threaten mobile monopoly. If only wireless service providers could allow it to reach its potential in at least as substantial form...
11. Reader - Google's feed reader is not too different from Mozilla's live bookmarks. Except for that it does not disappear if you reinstall your OS. It is not too different from other rival RSS services. Except for that it allows you to share articles with your friends with a click. And it works on my Wii.
10. Scholar - Pubmed was a go-to source and still is a great repository but Scholar beat it because of its spread and speed. More journals articles are scanned with more search options. There are links to the top names in a field which becomes very useful for a newcomer into the field. It even detects your subscription status to articles and offers links and notifications, but the biggest deal is that it threatens to dethrone the concept of impact factor. As long as your article is published in a journal with papers available online it is going to be picked up by Google Scholar so it does not matter which journal you publish in; your eventual reader and "citer" will be able to pick it up just like another high impact factor journal article. Many investigators profit immensely from this as they escape journal and academic politics and their citation levels gain unbiased from the number of people that view their publication online.
9. Picasa - First you make a web based photo album sharing tool that allows you to upload and download images in full size. Then you make a flashy desktop program for indexing and editing images. Then you allow easy integration, sharing and synching. Voila! you are alone with no competition.
8. Calendar - So every OS has a calendar and a appointment/task suite. Its a classic. What do you do when you forget to carry it with you? What if you need to recheck it? What if you want to change it remotely without all that remote computing hassle? Google Calendar synchronizes all tasks with most popular Calendars on all platforms.
7. Docs - No arguments here, nothing has been able to beat Microsoft Office yet. That is why most Macs carry Microsoft Office. And people pay to buy it even though Openoffice is free. Google Docs, instead of entering a flooded market of desktop-based suites simply creates its own Star-office based suite online. You do not have a winner but you have something that Microsoft never thought of. And that is because no one has done it before. So you don't need an office suite installed. All you need is a web browser with flash support.
6. Bookmarks - Everyone uses them now. Browsers even allow you to import from each other. How come nobody thought of putting it online? Actually yahoo did. And you can do more with yahoo's bookmarks like sharing them and seeing others' bookmarks. But well they don't involve themselves with a certain search algorithm...
5. Gmail - If you are of the rare species that has used gmail and left it for something else, shame on me. If you of the rare species that has never used gmail, etc etc. Who would have ever thought that you can put mails with the same title together into one conversation thread for a user? Who would have ever thought of giving more than a megabyte of mail storage space for free? Who would have ever thought of being able to search through your mail for something you need? Honestly, if you still use something like yahoo, hotmail or something more obscure, we must meet.
4. Wave - it is not higher on my list only because it has not been released yet. Since you have taken time off to read this blog post, take an hour more off and see this video. It may by your most productive hour for the week I guarantee you.
3. Integration - Apple really did well with its iLife suite that charms its patrons. But Apple is limited by its closed and monopolizing vision and that has been quite lucky for Google's system of integration. It will integrate with your mac, your pc or your hand-held. Google's way to success is not by selling closed products but by opening up to sharing, which is why so many have jumped on to the Google wagon. Google gears and Google Desktop get mentions here as fantastic proponents of the integrative capacity of Google. Way before the world coined the name 'cloud-computing' Google had its vision that would fit perfectly into the cloud-computing system where what hardware or OS you use would hardly matter in what you wish to do. Yes the internet is a must but once you have it, there's hardly a difference between what is on your desktop and what is out there in the rest of the world. And nobody has explored that like Google has.
2. Earth and Maps - Hands down this was Google's biggest gift. It is what made everyone realize how cool Google was. And it is still only halfway to where it is expected to be. Words cannot describe the ideas that went into these. Explore them. Period.
1. Search - Was there any doubt at all? The "grandaddy of 'em all" is the where it all started. Other search engines have not yet been able come close to its speed in a decade. Without this the other ideas would never have happened. Its as secret and not open-source thankfully and that is why it has been able to keep its feature, standards and speed as smooth as ever. Google search is probably the most benevolent and innocent giant you can find in any category of anything.
Sometimes idealism is the best way to be practical. I am feeling lucky.