Simon’s Backup Weblog


Rethinking Google Sky…

Posted in Uncategorized by Simon Bisson on August 22, 2007

…it’s a great tool, but it’s about to wipe out a small niche of the software industry, without Google even noticing. So much for “Do no evil”.

The result, a rant at our IT PRO blog:

Google’s latest version of its Earth mapping tool adds a significant new feature; Sky. It’s a great tool, you can scroll around the heavens, zooming in for detailed Hubble shots of the most beautiful astronomical objects, and all for free…

That’s great for us, but a terrible thing for all the small software houses and software developers who’ve invested their lives in developing planetarium software. Astronomical applications have been a profitable niche for a large number of companies, and sophisticated sky explorers have been developed over a number of years. Now, overnight, that market has been blown away.

Read more here.

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8 Responses to 'Rethinking Google Sky…'

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  1. sclerotic_rings said,

    I hate to sound like one of those nutjob libertarians who feels that the market’s always right, but this tirade is the same exact one that I hear from indie bookstores about the terrible presence of Amazon.com. Yes, it sucks that their business has been taken away, but it’s not like they were crying over the number of publishers who specialized in astronomical charts who themselves had to leave the market because of new computer applications. The best thing they can do is offer features and services that Google Sky can’t offer, such as what Meade’s mySky does.

  2. celestialweasel said,

    Again, I hate to sound like a nut-job libertarian but if one isn’t prepared to risk that someone will come along with something that does the same thing for much cheaper, then one is in the wrong business.

    FWIW this happened to a company I worked for when Autoroute first came out (long before it was bought by Microsoft). There were a number of route planners being sold in the 5K to 15K range, ours was at the high end, then Autoroute came out for 150 quid (initially).
    In the way of things this was slightly sad – although Autoroute did what it did probably better than our software – it was certainly leaner and meaner – there were various things our software did that Autoroute didn’t and I suspect that no-one sells any software that does those things these days apart from immensely expensive corporate systems.

  3. andrewducker said,

    It’s the “does the same thing” bit that’s the problem. Google Sky will do the basics, for free, in a pretty way. Which is what 98% of the audience wants. All that extra functionality will vanish, like tears in the rain :->

    Of course, if they can get Google Docs to the same level of functionality (i.e. deals with 98% of what people actually use Word for) then they’re set. Trickier to do though.

  4. vicarage said,

    I don’t use these programs much, but I thought one of the best packages was the public domain Celestia, feature rich and cross-platform. Yet commercial packages survive in the niches beyond it.

    I’d expect that Google Sky would actually grow the market, encouraging casual users who get hooked and want to move on to more sophisticated programs.

  5. mdlbear said,

    Business models aren’t eternal. Look at open source software. A proprietary program can compete with free — Oracle and Microsoft are probably the best examples, or at least the biggest. But their market share will inevitably decline. It happens faster when lock-in isn’t a factor — there are a lot fewer proprietary C compilers these days.

  6. yendi said,

    I was just about to make the same point. Celestia is open source and available on Mac, Linux, and even Windows. And anyone who was likely to pay for an app would also be likely to have done enough research to find Celestia in the first place; the ubiquity of Google doesn’t give it an advantage here.

  7. celestialweasel said,

    Yes indeed, that was the problem with the route planners (although I assume that their abilities would have got sucked into high end logistics packages – which, ironically, was where ours came from in the first place).

  8. ext_22310 said,

    I’m hoping that Google makes Starry Night drop in price. I have Starry Night Pro, but the price went up and the upgrade cycle got faster until I decided it was just too expensive to justify $100 upgrades every year (or even $60 for the non-pro version).

    There’s still a niche for people like me who are prepared to pay for something with more Celestia-like features, with a better UI than Celestia itself.


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