Take Googles announcement today that it will be releasing a free operating system based on its Chrome Internet browser some time in 2010. This is from a company which already has established itself as the dominant player in searches, email, maps, video, advertising, and is considered a strong contender in fields such as group collaboration, phone services, and even mobile computing. This is the same Google which is sponsoring a race to the Moon and regularly invests millions of dollars a year in a broad spectrum of startups. The same Google which recently introduced the concept of Google Wave, which may have the ability to revolutionize communications in a way Twitter can only dream about. Google isn't just a 500 pound gorilla on the Internet, it is THE 500 pound gorilla. Now, had any other company with this kind of omnipresence announced its intention to expand into yet another market, there would be panic and fleeing of the populace to the hills. Instead, the overwhelming consensus seems to be one of eager anticipation, bordering on celebration. So why does Google get treated so differently?
My guess, for what it's worth, is that Google has mastered the art of the Soft Monopoly. A Soft Monopoly is everywhere because people genuinely want it everywhere. It's helpful, useful, and generous, and doesn't go throwing its weight around to get what it wants. Instead, it convinces everyone else that they want what it wants because what Google wants makes things better for everyone. With only a few exceptions, everything Google has tackled has made the Internet a better place for everyone, which wins you a lot of friends. With such populist support, how could a Soft Monopoly do anything but expand? Whereas Microsoft and Apple have consistently tried to dictate what their customers could and could not do, Google has taken the opposite path. Their logic, I suspect is that the more seamlessly and effortlessly Google can fit itself into the experience its customers dictate, the more positively Google will be viewed. For Google this means offering a lot of high quality services for free. In doing so they become a ubiquitous part of the fabric of the Net, so when you need a professional solution, the answer comes naturally.
So should we be surprised Google is creating a free open source operating system? No, it's a natural behavior for a Soft Monopoly like Google. By leaping into another market with a free disruptive product, Google expands their potential to be helpful in all sorts of new ways. For a Soft Monopoly, helpfulness is directly related to future profit, so Google is right on its game plan. Right now Google seems content to constrain its monopoly to the realm of bits and bytes. So until your Google Groceries get delivered to your Google Apartment door by a Google Grocerybot, I think the world is safe for the time being.