Monday, 8 September 2008

Google - Chrome or Green?

Unless you've been asleep for the last week you must have read about Google's launch of its web browser, Chrome. It's had a mixed reception - see Holways Hotviews for the reaction of one of the UK's best known analysts (and my ex mentor)

Chrome is part of Google's plans to take over the world, as most 10-year-olds want to do (Google also celebrated its birthday at the weekend). You will have seen the various other add-ons Google has available with its searches, including Google Docs (documents, spreadsheets, etc), and if you receive these blogs by email (as many of you do) most are sent via Feedburner, another Google company.

There's a big story hear about the challenge to Microsoft by moving desktop applications online, covered by many papers over the weekend, but I'm more interested in the Green aspects.

The question is whether it is Greener to adopt Google's online approach. And the answer seems to me to be - it depends who you are. Lets look at three scenarios:

- Home PC use. Using free online applications is appealing to the home user simply on the basis of cost. The advertised price of any personal computer doesn't truly represent the outlay if a fully-featured office suite is added. But does using online software reduce the resources needed on home PCs? On the face of it, yes. But at the same time we are also increasingly seeing the home PC becoming the hub of an entertainment system for lots of audio/visual entertainment (film, TV, radio, YouTube, Facebook, etc, etc). With these sorts of applications available on the machine the resource needed and the power consumption are not going to be significantly impacted by whether documents and spreadsheets are driven by the PC or online.

- Corporate machines. For the foreseeable future I believe corporations will want to retain control of all office applications within their own IT operations, for compatibility reasons if nothing else. In any case, they have the capability to go thin client, which would probably provide even greater gains than online applications.

- SMEs. Small and medium enterprises must be the prime user group, since online applications can significantly reduce in-house costs. Here there could be a real Green benefit, allowing for the use of much simpler, devices in terms of processing and storage capabilities and hence less power-hungry (either in use or in manufacture). That's particularly true for laptop users (and more and more SMEs are moving to laptops), since it also provides easy access to office applications from any location as WiFi hot spots expand.

So there is potential for Google's offerings to help save the planet (and there's no argument that Google itself is doing it's share). It does rest on two assumptions, though. Firstly, that through economies of scale it is more power efficient for Google to manage the applications. And secondly, that the companies that use online applications are sure that the communications systems and providers they use are resilient enough to ensure that online applications are always available. Climate change will bring with it significant disruption and the recent spate of hurricane's hitting the Eastern Pacific are a reminder.

© The Green IT Review

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