Recently I wrote about the Google Apps Marketplace and how it brings a walled garden approach to the desktop and my thesis revolved around the idea that a few years back you could download any piece of software you wanted without having to go through a gatekeeper. I am not a fan of censorship of any kind - after experiencing a world where I could download any application to any computer I own, I am now seeing that this situation has changed for the worse. In my family there are various devices and more of them have Apples logos on them and the newer ones only allow you to install apps through the Apple approved App Store.
And I am fine with the idea that Apple likes to protect its users by screening for malicious software but many of my readers tell me they are very uncomfortable with their censoring of apps which they feel are offensive, sexually suggestive and/or competitive. I have nothing against Apple but I have everything against any company which limits the choices of my readers after they spend their money to purchase a product. I have complained endlessly about not being able to use Flash on the iPad and I remain terribly frustrated whenever I encounter a site I cannot see properly because Steve Jobs made the conscious decision to exclude this software.
I have been in numerous meeting in the past thirty days where customers want to see TMCnet on the iPad and discuss it with me. Invariably there are lots of blanks on the pages we visit because many of the ads are Flash-based. As a result of this omission I find myself constantly explaining that the iPad doesn't support Flash and that is why the ad doesn't show or a graphic looks odd, etc. And it always hits me - how on earth is this a good thing for iPad customers?
But the trend is clear - Nokia, Samsung, RIM, mobile carriers - everyone wants, needs and will have an app store and as it continues, there will be a live human being between you and the software you may want to install.
So I was obviously concerned about the fact that the Google Apps Marketplace requires approval from the search company and I wasn't bashful mentioning it. From my perspective, the Apple model of censorship was expanding to other platforms - now the PC and this raised an alarm bell in my head. Recently I had a chance to catch up with Scott McMullan who is the Google Apps Partner Lead at Google Enterprise to learn more about Google's approach to the software market and I was pleasantly surprised with the conversation.
Scott explained the goal of the company's program is to reduce friction for customers and the low $100 fee for approval helps to keep out phishers, spammers, etc. In addition, he explained the sole reason for an approval process is to ensure new apps do allow a single sign-on. Moreover, when I described my concern about how Apple is getting more and more closed with its various programs from apps to ads, McMullan replied, "We are actively not doing what you said." He continued by saying, "That is an environment we are trying to escape."
It is worth noting the company is not currently checking new applications technically for malicious intent but they do look at the reputation of the publisher.
Another point he emphasized is the approval process is a nonissue - in other words they are not looking to be a censor, they are instead looking to help apps interoperate.
On a slightly different note, some developers have asked me why the App Engine has support for Python and Java while PHP is excluded. The answer is that the JVM can act as a gateway to other runtimes for now and PHP is likely on the roadmap for the future. Apparently this is a common question posed to Google.
I left the discussion feeling very good about the Google approach as the company seems to really want to be open to all apps - mentioning there are competitors in the store as well. And truth be told, every platform can use a filter for malicious software.
Scott added that one of the goals of the company is to use the most open path allowing the developer to use the same framework in other contexts - basically this seems to be the opposite of the Apple approach where the company looks to have developers use unique tools which are specific to the iPod/iPad/iPhone environment.
In the CRM, OSS, VoIP and UC spaces there have been billions of dollars spent on integration in the past decade or so and having seamless integration between apps without the need for teams of integrators means that smaller companies will be now able to leverage integrated solutions which bridge disparate software categories - something once available only to the Fortune 1,000. Moore's Law has allowed the same sort of thing to happen in computing and IP communications has allowed SMBs to now have access to productivity tools that were once the exclusive domain of corporate giants.
While so many analysts and media personalities gush over the benefits of the cloud, I wonder if app interoperability isn't the most important benefit of this transition. What massive increases in productivity can we expect to reap as this move continues? McMullan mentioned we are in the early days of app integration and cloud-based delivery models and I agree - just imagine how much faster and more efficient companies of the future will be as they use a wizard to rapidly solve their software needs by checking boxes on a web browser. This may be really bad news for high-priced consultants but for companies of all sizes, it means there will be opportunity to do more with less.
So is this a walled garden approach? Somewhat... But if Google isn't restricting apps based on content then I am not very concerned - you can decide for yourself if this presents a problem. And as the store gains in popularity, the company may be faced with having to deal with approving apps which are considered offensive towards a religious or political group. It will be very interesting to see what happens in such a case and even my devotion to app freedom may end up being tested if this were to happen.
In balance, if we get much greater software integration at a lower cost as a result of the Google Apps Marketplace, it is no doubt a major win for customers, Google and its partners.