Enderle pointed to Apple as the model of a company that knows how to displace a dominant vendor (Microsoft Windows) and hold on to a monopoly (iPod). But let's put this aside; the idea of Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page abandoning all manner of free Web services to sell consumer devices is an anathema.
Hansell also asked: What would happen if the company made the Google name worth paying extra for? Let's suppose Google decides to charge for its Web services. We'll leave search out of the question. Buffet tables runneth over in Mountain View, Calif., thanks to Google's $20 billion in search advertising per year.
By introducing Chrome OS as open source, Google has willfully placed financial responsibilities for the software in the hands of netbook manufacturers, such as Acer, Adobe, Asus, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Toshiba. Google has said these companies are working on building Chrome OS-based computers.
But what if Google began to charge for its Google Apps, not just the $50 per user, per year for the premium version, but even for the use of Gmail by Joe Consumer? Gmail has become invaluable to long-time users who have been using Gmail for five years and keep a wealth of data stored on Google's geographically displaced servers.
What might Google reasonably expect to charge users? $3 per month? What about Google Apps such as Docs? Would Google charge pennies per file, or X dollars per gigabyte of storage for word processing, presentation and spreadsheets?
Bile brims in throats after reading such travesties. Does Google dare charge us for the things it offered us free for years? That breaks the contract, doesn't it? Didn't we, by logging into Google Accounts, agree to let Google serve us ads for the ability to use Web services? That was the deal implicit in us using Gmail, et al, right?
The problem with free is that if you offer Web services free from the start, no price point looks attractive thereafter. Consumers feel ill used, slighted and taken for a ride.
Even if consumers did agree to pay they would call for higher quality of service than Google currently provides and the company still regularly has outages that don't discriminate between Google's consumers and its paying customers.
No matter how important Google Web services have become to their users, Google is stuck with free. When you start with free and become really successful with it, you get stuck with free, as Dallas Mavericks owner and blogger Mark Cubannoted.
At what point does the burden of free get too large for even Google to bear?