Mozilla and Baidu join battle for the new cloud OS
Stripping the Gecko
In contrast with Google, the open source foundation will release sourcecode to the community in real time, rather than in a staggered process favoring selected partners. Mozilla will also work through standards groups where relevant.
Baidu chases Google, Alibaba apes Amazon
Google's Achilles' heel as it pushes its cloud vision will be China, where it has faced political storms and powerful rivals. So it is no surprise that local search giant Baidu is mirroring its strategy. It has already released a beta version of its own browser, which will be built around its search box and will later evolve into a fully fledged web operating system to compete with Chrome. Like Google, it gets most of its revenue from search advertising and aims to put the services that drive it – the search box itself, location awareness and so on – at the heart of the whole mobile interface.
For now, Baidu Browser looks similar in layout to Chrome, but its home page features instant links to apps and social networks, and there is a “Treasure Vault‟ from which users can select further links, apps or pieces of content to place on the homescreen. This is reminiscent of the Chrome Web Store which accompanies Google's OS, and while the platform is initially geared to PCs and netbooks, mobile versions will appear soon.
Also in China, Alibaba Group plans to unveil its Cloud OS later this week. Unlike Baidu, this will be specifically designed for mobile devices, and the ecommerce major will even launch its ownbranded handsets to kickstart the platform.
If Baidu's strategy has clearly borrowed from Google's, Alibaba's role model must be Amazon. The US firm has shown how creating a distinctive and usable experience can boost physical and digital sales online, and create a huge brand, and its Chinese counterpart wants to make similar progress. The Chinese company, though, has moved earlier towards the next logical step – controlling not just the web site and shopping processes, but the underlying platform too.
Amazon has done this in a specific market with Kindle, which has its own devices, store and apps as well as the web site, but for other digital activities it has relied on Windows and Android. For the next generation cloud devices and services, it is rumored to be seeking greater control, either by heavily adapting Android or licensing webOS (it already has its own Android app store in competition with Googles's).
A webOS alliance, hinted at by former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein recently, would give Amazon a system in which it would be the dominant licensee and therefore have huge influence, without having to carry out development itself. It would also be more suited to embedded web appliances than Android, as Google itself has recognized. And Amazon has been a pioneer of the embedded model with Kindle – indeed, Todd Bradley, EVP of HP's personal systems group, recently said that looking at the model underpinning Kindle had been one reason why HP decided to purchase webOS and create an internet OS strategy of its own. "Kindle was a big driver for us to look at webOS," he told the Fortune Brainstorm Tech conference.
Like Amazon, Alibaba's primary motivation will be to increase sales of content and goods, rather than to become a mobile hardware or software vendor in its own right. It aims to expand its ecommerce activities into cloud content and web services, and to encourage handset makers to include its OS in their products to offer their customers simplified access – rather like “Facebook phones” in the west. Alibaba owns many web companies, whose services could be boosted by a new, user friendly interface. Among them is China's largest online retailer, Taobao, which in 2009 launched its own-branded handset range, with Amazon-style ease of use for ecommerce and mobile content transactions. ®
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