Brad Feld

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Will Android Be Google’s Vietnam?

Sep 25, 2008
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One of my favorite quotes of all times was Ted Leonsis’s statement in the mid-1990’s that "MSN will be Microsoft’s Vietnam."  Ted said this around the time that MSN launched (on a proprietary platform – pre-Internet) to compete directly with AOL.  15 years later this seems like such a prescient statement.

I have no idea if Android will be Google’s Vietnam.  We’ll have to look back 15 years from now to really know.  But as I watched the T-Mobile G1 Video and read through some of the Android early criticism (and praise), I kept asking myself "why?"  I have my own guesses as to the answer, and I know the public answers, but when I sit on the outside looking in, I have way more questions than answers.

If Google is really serious, they’ll do what Apple did – license Microsoft ActiveSync and immediately create transparent integration with Exchange (hey – don’t forget to write the 74 lines of code that will sync tasks.)  I’m a month into using my iPhone and it’s here to stay – it is so superior to Windows Mobile 6 on a Dash that I can’t even begin to describe my pleasure with it as an integrated mobile device.  I’ve gotten used to the keyboard and can now type on it about as fast as I could on my Dash and my old Sidekick.  I continue to hear this as the major complaint from semi-converts, but I just don’t see it.  You definitely have to change a few things about how you type on a small keyboard, but I had to do that with the Sidekick (thumb clicks anyone?) and the Dash (keep your fingernails really short.)  Yeah, there are still plenty of things that could be improved, but with each incremental release I see them get fixed.

As I ponder Foundry Group’s digital life theme, including the hour long conversation I had with a new Microsoft friend at dinner last night, I realize that I believe forced migration of an individual’s legacy data simply won’t work.  I have so much legacy data associated with all my different devices, on so many different platforms, in so many different places, across so many different people / relationships that the new devices and software I use, whether by Apple, Google, Microsoft, StartupCo, or FooCo, are going to have to "respect" all that stuff.  When I dig into Android a little, I see the potential for that, but I also see resistance to that concept.  iPhone 1.0 had this problem; iPhone 2.0 is doing a much better job of not having this problem.

I’m spending the day at Microsoft’s Annual Venture Capital Summit and expect to hear a lot about Cloud Computing and Mesh.  I have my Microsoft Venture Capital Advisory board meeting tomorrow where the topic is all around where Windows Mobile is going.  Against the background of Google, Android, the iPhone, and all the various "cloud computing initiatives", it’ll be interesting to see if Microsoft has really reconciled – at least conceptually – issues that led to the MSN / Vietnam problem that still hinder it today.  Simultaneously, it’s interesting to watch and see if Google is wandering into their own Vietnam(s), or if they will deftly sidestep them.

I love working with / on this stuff and – after watching Fred Wilson’s video on the last 15 years in the New York Internet scene (and how prosaic things look like from 1995) – I’m so amused when I think about what things will be like in 2023.