I’m sitting here on the train to DC, skimming the 1,000 or so posts and analysis about Google Chrome OS. My opinion: This OS may eat into some Linux market share, but Apple and Microsoft have nothing to worry about yet. Why? Because it will not gain mainstream adoption. Why not? Because Google is not taking customer service seriously enough to support a mainstream operating system.
I hope I’m wrong. I hope when Google Chrome OS is introduced that Google has a team that will directly respond to user issues and won’t depend entirely on the hardware partners to support the software (just try asking AT&T a software question about the iPhone – ’nuff said). I’m just not hopeful based on the company’s track record in this area.
Have you ever tried to get direct support for a Google product? For most products, it doesn’t exist. You are directed to the various forums that Google employees rarely post to. When you search for your issue among the posts, you typically find nothing but posts from others with the same issue but no solutions. Occasionally you may be lucky to find your issue among the “known” ones listed in Google’s Help Center.
For example, I blogged about a problem with Gmail rendering back on June 19th. Check out this thread on the Google support forums, full of folks begging for an update from Google. Nothing from a Google employee since a “we’re working on it” post on June 23rd. Last week I kept getting an error message when I manually added an email address to a Google group. Once again, found many threads. No solutions. Was it something related to the group I was on? Was it a computer issue? Was it a known problem? No idea. No way to find out.
When you rely on Google, you are also relying on the wisdom of the masses to help guide you. Most of the time, that’s good enough. Can’t check email and you run to Twitter search to confirm that others are having the same problem. You have to count on the fact that whatever problem you’re having is also experienced by enough others that it will get Google’s attention to fix, especially if enough folks kvetch about it in public places (or you can get an A lister to blog about it). I’m sure there are Google products where one can obtain one-on-one support, but they aren’t the products that are aimed at consumers.
But Judi, isn’t all your email on Google servers? Don’t you use AdSense, AdWords, Feedburner, Analytics, gCalendar, and Docs? Yes. But for each and every Google service I use I have a backup plan. I can pick up and move elsewhere with a stroke a DNS entry. Also the chance of every service failing at the same time is slim enough that it doesn’t concern me.
But an OS is different. It’s a single point of failure that everything else in your online day depends on. If the OS on your netbook fails and you can’t start the machine, you can’t search user forums hoping for a clue. You can’t easily fall back on something else. For the techie-geek who runs Linux and open source software as a general rule, this is not a huge concern. But the average user isn’t the techie-geek. The average user is going to want to pick up the phone at the first error message when they can’t get online.
Is Google ready to offer a page like this?
The support doesn’t have to be free (and probably shouldn’t be). It just has to be an option. Let the user decide for themselves if the dedicated help is worth paying for. Referring everything to partners is not a solution I think the average user will swallow.