Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Google's latest Chrome OS moves

Google has announced a renewed focus on the Chrome OS operating system.  Many of my readers know that I invented the Chrome OS webtop back in 2006 while working at Google, so I thought I'd answer some questions that people have asked on the web about the first version we built at Google.

Did you work with the Chrome team or anyone else on Chromebook?

Of course. The Chrome Team played a key role later in 2007.  Mike Jazayeri, Director of Chrome and Apps, assisted more than any other single person.  He was heavily involved in organizing and pushing through the project with the Executive Team at Google.  He ran the meetings with Larry Page and the other executives, as well as the meetings with external partners like HP and Asus.

It was SVP Jeff Huber who supervised the Chrome team and also gave the initial executive level approval for Chromebook, including Google's most valuable resource, full-time engineers.

Other members of the Chrome Team did the core work of porting Chrome to Linux and helped me get it running, including Ben Goodger and Brian Rakowski.

It's impossible for me to overstate the importance of the Google Apps team, particularly the Google Docs project.  If it had not been that Google had already completed a huge number of webapps to replace the functionality of a consumer operation system by July 2006, a consumer operating system based on web apps could not have been written.

Hundreds of other Google engineers provided testing and feedback for the operating system.

What are your thoughts on Google latest announcement regarding improving Chrome OS' offline capabilities and positioning it as a full fledge operating system?

I always thought the Chrome OS operating system could be marketed as a competitor to Microsoft.  Much of the original reception, back in 2009, was that Chromebook was just a toy for occasionally browsing the web.  I never thought of it that way.

When I came up with the invention, I used it myself every day as my main computer while I was working at Google.  I believe the business buzz word for that is "dogfooding". In my opinion, you should always, always dogfood your product, otherwise its difficult to understand your customers and their needs.

How do you square that with consumers who are used to Windows?

Consumers are used to this OS architecture where you have files and applications, and you carry all your files around with you on a hard disk, and a PC is a CPU, a hard disk, a Wifi, etc.  But there's really no reason it has to remain that way or even that those expectations are the best way to interact with a computer.  That's just what people are used to.

Microsoft, I certainly feel, has stagnated to a huge degree.  Their operating system hasn't significantly changed in the last 20 or so years.  That's unheard of in the PC industry.  You don't have software business that have products that remain identical and unchanging for decades.  If you don't innovate in software, you tend to go out of business, very quickly.

Some people have questioned the RAM-based architecture of the original Chrome OS product you came up with in 2006?

The original version was based on a Linux kernel called PuppyLinux, which I loved, and still love for that matter.  Puppy is an operating system designed from the ground up to boot entirely into RAM, so it was very, very fast.  It was the perfect starting point for a lightweight web-based operating system, when you have the expectations that you aren't going to have applications and data sitting on the same computer. Again, once you get over the hurdle of teaching consumers that their files aren't sitting on the same computer, it becomes kind of natural to expect the OS itself can just boot to RAM.

The main reason is simply speed.  When you look at the BUS architutecture of something like the Samsung Chromebook, its running on an MMC bus plugged into an SSD.  Well, the MMC bus is only 30 Meg/sec, that's crazy slow.  Why would you ever plug an SSD into such a slow BUS?  I opted for a RAM bus architecture instead, because the RAM BUS is generally going to be in the 1000 Gigabit range, thousands of times faster than MMC.  That was a very easy decision.

Your blog mentions HP and ASUS were in talks with Google prior to their webtop product launches in 2008?

Google had some informal talks with HP and Asus about partnering on Chrome OS back in 2007. We demoed the operating system for the companies and showed them a bunch of screenshots and product roadmaps.

I don't have access to any sources inside HP or Asus to get the full details, but it appears from the outside that when the partnership talks with Google broke down in 2008, HP and Asus decided to go their own direction and launched their own webtop offerings without Google.  As of 2013, though, Asus and HP are back as Chrome OS partners.

Why do you think the originally HP and Asus offerings were not more successful as compared to Chrome OS?

Good question. You'd have to do a market study to find out the exact answer to that, regarding how individual customers made their buying decisions.

From a technical and marketing perspective, Google was smart to launch it as an open source operating system, positioned as a cheap, secure, easily administrated alternative to Windows.  I think that message resonated with many businesses and consumers.

So you invented the webtop, not just Chrome OS?

I would offer a qualified yes.  I described the invention process and the work I was doing back in 2006 and 2007 at Google in my first blog post here.  All the products that were launched in 2008 and 2009, by Google, HP and Asus, can all be traced back to my work and the meetings between Google and potential hardware partners that took place in 2007.

However, that is a qualified yes, because the term 'webtop' has become so overloaded - it has many different definitions and has been used to describe many entirely different products.  Motorola even has a smartphone docking station that they call the 'Webtop'.  SCO (a Linux company) originally coined the term 'webtop' to describe a browser plugin.

I invented the idea that you could write an entire fully functional operating system entirely with browser components and web services.  To the extent that is definition of 'webtop' you are referring to, then yes, absolutely.

Did Google pay you a bonus for inventing Chrome OS and filing the patent? 

Google paid me a small bonus, a few weeks before they publicly announced Chrome OS in 2009.  I had not been an employee in well over a year.

Why did you leave Google?

I tend to make decisions like that for many reasons - not just any one single reason.

I suppose one of the issues was that I personally failed to get as much traction with Google management on the Chrome OS project as I felt the project deserved.  We had full-time head count slotted for the project.  We even had some backing from several executives and had demo-ed in front of Larry Page, but I personally still had other responsibilities. (I was programming web services for the Google Apps team, at that time.)  I repeatedly asked to transfer to the project that I had founded, instead.  At some point, it all came to a head, and I found myself walking out the door.

There were other reasons, but I think that if I had received more direct support from Google management at that time, I probably would not have left.
I see on your web site that you also worked at eBay.  What was your favorite company to work for, Google or eBay?

Well, I've worked for many companies, not just Google and eBay.  I was just recalling this the other day, I got my first IT job doing data entry as a temp working for a bank, Arizona Federal Credit Union.  That was 27 years ago.  Yikes.

It's a difficult question to answer, you know.  Each company is different, each culture is different. 

I remember this one tiny company called Shockmarket.  When I was hired, everyone else in the company had PhDs, except for me.  (I dropped out of my PhD program to pursue my first Internet startup back in 1995.) That was a fun company, because we were all super-motivated to make a big hit during the Internet gold rush.  We had people pulling all-nighters on a regular basis, which was cool, because you'd come up with a product idea in the afternoon - and by the next morning, you had a product ready for market.  Someone stayed up all night to write it and make it happen. Good times.

Google was also good in many respects of course.  Google gave me a long leash to experiment and do my own innovation, so in that sense I'd have to say Google.  Google has been able to hire some really outstanding people, also.  It's always nice as an engineer to be working with people who are great at their job and always exceeding expectations. 

We had some great people at eBay, also.  Many people don't know this, but eBay ramped up their hiring just as many Internet startups were failing back in 2001, so we really could pick from the cream of the crop.  We were able to get some real rockstar engineers, who have all gone on to do great things either still at eBay or at their own companies.

Any more questions?  Post them in comments and I'll respond as time permits.

Chrome OS: A Timeline

I just wanted to note down some dates relevant to my invention of Chrome OS.  You can refer to the original Chrome OS patent on the USPTO site.

July 2006.  Initial prototype of Chrome OS created based on PuppyLinux kernel.  Demo for coworkers and immediate management.

May 2007.  Published first version of Chrome OS to a internal Google company wide mailing list.

June 2007.  Executive management approves full-time head count for project. 'Chromebook' is coined.

August 2007.  Informal talks begin with hardware vendors Asus and HP to partner with Google on a webtop operating system.

January 2008.  Jeff Nelson departs Google for other opportunities.  Talks stall between Google and hardware partners, Asus and HP.

September 2008.  HP and Asus announce plans to move forward (without Google) on their own webtop products.

March 2009.  Google files patent on webtops listing Jeff Nelson as inventor.

September 2009. Google announces plan to launch Chrome OS as open source project.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Response to Stephen Nichols

Stephen, I enjoyed your article, but I'm surprised you wrote it based on poor sources and social media. Both of your sources specifically said, 'I have never heard of this guy or his work', although you didn't bother to point that out in your article. 

I suppose as a journalist, you'd prefer to interview someone in Google Managemenent who can tell you in detail how the project started and why my name is on several key patents (filed after I left the company, mind you). 

Had you requested to interview me, I could have filled you in on many other details. For example, Google took the highly unusual move of withholding my final pay check, demanding that I sign an additional intellectual property contract for Chromebook after my resignation, which I kept and could have shown you.

Chromebook (2007)

Google kept up a long correspondence with me [some of which I still have and could have shown you], asking for my advice on the design of Chromebook.

Then, in the lead up to announcing Chromebook to the public in June 2009, Google again took a highly unusual step of paying me - a former employee who hadn't worked at the company in a year and a half - an additional, small bonus check for my work on Chromebook. 

The circumstances of the patent filing were also highly unusual, and might have made a better story. First, there were two patents, not one. Both patents were filed by Google, years after I left the company. Also, both were filed without my signature on any of the normal patent documents. Also, Google hired an outside attorney to do the filing, one of the top intellectual property lawyers in the country. Given the size and complexity of the patent filings, I'd estimate Google paid in the neighborhood of half a million dollars in legal fees for the two patents. Sadly, the lawyers were paid far, far more for writing the patents than I was ever paid for creating Chromebook technology, given the small bonus check was my only reward after much blood, sweat and tears.

Instead of paraphrasing social media, you might want to talk to Google's Management team, who were involved with the project since the beginning and can give you specifics far beyond 'I dont know', including:

Brian Rakowski, the first PM of the Chrome project and one of the people who contributed to setting up the original Chromebook project in 2007.

Darren Upton, the first tech lead manager of the Chrome project, who helped us out with moving the webtop work I had been doing for the previous year, from Firefox to Chrome.

Mike Jazayari, the Director of Chrome and someone I worked very closely with on a day-to-day basis. Mike also wrote the business case and ran several of the meetings with executives at Google and partner talks with HP and Asus. Mike coined the term 'Chromebook'.

Jeff Huber, the VPE who approved the Chrome and Chromebook projects and granted us an allocation of full-time engineers to build a consumer operating system for the first time at Google.

Larry Page, who contributed useful feedback during the early product definition and prioritized the popular instant-boot feature.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Invention Controversey

My previous blog post has caused some confusion among people who didn't work with me on the "Google OS" project back in 2007.  Here is a brief response:

I am not surprised some people are calling this claim into doubt since its was work done back in 2006 and 2007.  It sounds like many of these questions are being raised by people outside of Google or individuals who joined the project after 2007.  

First, let me reassure you that while I was not able to walk out of Google with my email history or design documents, Google sent me long correspondence about the Chrome OS patent after I left Google.  I do not believe this correspondence is covered by any NDA, since it was sent to me after I left Google, and I have retained all of that correspondence. 

I published the work called "Google OS" on a company wide email list in April May 2007, with subject line "Google OS" "Guppy needs testers", and received hundreds of positive comments from other engineers at that time.  I also held a tech talk on "Google OS" in May 2007.  Anyone at the company in April May 2007 will likely retain a copy of the original "Google OS" email, search for subject line "Google OS" "Guppy needs testers" in April May 2007.

The operating system that I invented, as described in the  April May  007 email on a company wide email list, was a webapp-centric chopped-down Linux with a Chrome browser front-end.  The operating system had almost no applications installed on it, instead all of the functionality came from webapps;  performing any operation on the desktop launched a Chrome window to one of many webapps.  The original  April May  007 version of the operating system that was published on a company wide email list was substantially identical to the publicly released Chromebook product, as was the writeup in the original 2007 email.

Further, back in 2007, I had meetings with Jeff Huber (VP of Google's consumer products group), Larry Page (now CEO), several other directors and managers, and even presented a techtalk - all of these meetings on Chrome OS project. By the end of 2007, I was working with a product manager, and together we were able to convince management to launch the Chrome OS project and assign head count to the project by the end of 2007.  In August 2007, my product manager and I even met with an external hardware vendor to have exploratory talks regarding their interest in distribution a Chrome OS laptop. 

All of this is verifiable both from the email record, such as the  April May 2007 "Google OS" email to a company wide mailing list, and also by those who met with me on Chrome OS in 2007, including Larry Page himself.  Further, I retain the hard copies of the correspondence with Google that was sent to me after I left the company on the subject as well, which I don't believe is covered by any sort of NDA.

I hope this clears up some of the controversy.  Again, I am not surprised that many of you who either worked on Chromebook or joined Google after 2007 have never heard of me.  Once I left Google, there would have been no reason to continuously bring up my name as the original inventor, and I have chosen not to come forward until the patent was finalized and published.  I apologize to those of you who may have been confused by this.

A number of people have asked about the history of the trademarked product name, 'Chomebook', as opposed to 'Google OS' and 'Guppy'.

The initial name I proposed when I first demoed my webtop work to Google management in July 2006 was 'Guppy', short for Google - Puppy; and following a naming convention commonly used inside Google of reworking a product outside the company, then adding a 'G' to arrive at a name for the Google variant. 'Guppy' predated the internal release and product testing of Chrome by about six months. It was built entirely on Firefox. That was not a design decision at the time of course, Chrome simply did not exist yet.

When the Chrome team joined the project in May 2007, the project received formal approval and was funded with full-time engineer head count. At that time, the project code name was chosen to be 'Google OS'.

In June 2007, one of the managers of the Chrome team (Mike J.) proposed the product name 'Chromebook' and the name stuck. After that 'Chromebook' was used in all of our documentations as well as management briefings.