Sundar Pichai is the man in charge of Google Chrome , which last month rose to the No 2 spot among Web browsers, overtaking Firefox. If current trends persist, Chrome, launched just three years ago, will soon be closing in on Microsoft’s once ubiquitous Internet Explorer. Pichai, 39, grew up in Chennai, did a BTech from IIT-Kharagpur, and then went to Stanford University, US, for an MS. He worked in Applied Materials and McKinsey Co, before joining Google in 2004.
Earlier this year there were reports that Google awarded Pichai many millions of dollars in stock grants (Tech-Crunch says it’s $50 million, though some think it’s lesser, may be $10-20 m) to keep him from joining Twitter. We didn’t try to verify when he visited Bangalore recently (he certainly would not have told us), but the man, who heads the Chrome and Apps division, which includes Gmail and Google Docs, spoke extensively about what is his most ambitious venture, the Chrome operating system (OS).
You’ve launched the Chromebook with the Chrome OS. How’s the response?
We are at the beginning of a long journey. We are incredibly committed to it. This (OS) market is a very mature market. The software experiences you’ve had on PCs have been around for almost 30 years. We are a new comer. We have come with a very different opinion. What excites me is, every way you look at it, the trends on which we bet on Chrome are getting truer by the day. People increasingly live in the cloud, are working on cloud services (Web applications). With Chrome OS, the idea was, can we build an end-to-end computing experience centred around that.
We have made Chromebooks available only online, in select retailers. It was not a volume play for us by any means. Our goal was to show proof of concept of a new way of doing computing, get mindshare, excitement, and continue to build on it. Think about Android six years ago, that’s the stage we are in. We are very excited by the initial feedback from users. My mom and dad use Chromebooks and they love it; they have nothing to install, they have done nothing to maintain it, it’s always secure, always in the latest version; my mom logs in as her, and she gets all her data, my dad logs in as him, he gets all his data.
We often find the latency of Google Docs irritating, and some of us are still a lot more comfortable with the offline Microsoft Word. Do you really think there can be a quick transition to the cloud in places where bandwidth is still a problem?
You are in a line of profession where Word is a core productivity tool, you depend on it for your work. This is not typical of most consumers. My wife, my parents, they don’t need any of the complexities of Word, they never ever think of using Word. Cloud is what people use 98% of the time.
How is adoption of Google Apps by businesses?
We sign around 4,000 new businesses every day. About 60% of the top 100 universities in the US are on Google Apps. The benefits of doing collaborative work on Docs is so mindblowing, the answer is clear for most people.
How is it in enterprises, especially now with Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud offering?
Even in enterprises we are growing at an extraordinarily fast pace. Just that there’s a large legacy market, so it will take years. But the trend lines are very favourable. I’m excited to see Microsoft take a huge step towards the cloud. But for us, when people think of Google Apps, they are not comparing features. It’s a much broader bet they are placing, that the apps will work well together, seamlessly, wherever they are and whichever device they are using. So I don’t see Office 365 changing this one way or the other. Microsoft says they come from the enterprise side, so they know what enterprises need in terms of security and features far more than you do.