Profile: Meet Don Dodge, Microsoft-defector and cloud-lover

HTML death knell for crap apps

Don Dodge

Don Dodge

One time Microsoft evangelist, Don Dodge, has defected to arch-rival Google and is now poaching the Redmond giant’s Fortune 500 clients.

Dodge, now a Google evangelist, is also an IT venture capitalist of 30 years who counts some of the industry’s brightest and richest founders as his friends. Think Bill Gates and Larry Ellison.

He jumped from the “religious, out there techno-role” as a Microsoft evangelist to a “hands-dirty” developer advocate at Google last November, and he knows how to talk big business.

“The Fortune 500 companies already use Microsoft, and it was the start-ups who were sceptical, but at Google it’s the opposite,” Dodge told Computerworld Australia at Google Australia's offices.

“Working with start-ups is easy, but I also work with large enterprises to convince them to move to cloud computing.”

Dodge often starts to coax the big end of town over with Gmail, since many staff use the service, or one similar. But it takes a freight train a long time to change direction, even if everyone is helping. He says the high-end of town is already sold on cloud computing and the notion that offline applications are dead, but big business has big investments and big contracts, so it’s a hard slog to get them to dump their infrastructure.

The incisive American has held a string of top roles in the technology sector and has tipped serious money into a swath of start-up companies, typically software development houses. Dodge began his IT career at database group Digital Equipment, and then as a director at Forte software before its acquisition by IBM in 1996. He then took a management spot at the world’s first search engine, Alta Vista, where his team invented image and video search capabilities, which is still in use at Yahoo!.

In 2000, Dodge became a vice-president at peer-to-peer client Napster until early 2001 before it was bankrupted following a string of copyright lawsuits. He then started web development company Bow Street and later became a vice president at Groove Networks with Lotus Notes creator, Ray Ozzie, until its acquisition by Microsoft in 2005, where it formed what is now Microsoft Sharepoint Workspace.

Dodge shifted into Microsoft’s technology evangelist seat where he eyed burgeoning technology companies for venture capital investment and toured the world speaking at conferences and promoting the Redmond giant. He joined the enemy, Google, but kept the same hat last November. He also feeds potential start-ups ripe for investment to Google’s venture capitalist arm.

Yet despite his extensive professional career in the technology industry, Dodge is more comfortable around t-shirts and ponytails than suits. He is the voice of Google developers, and he ensures they have all the features, functions and buttons they could hope for.

HTML death knell for crap apps

The office of the next 10 years will be rather devoid of computers, or at least as we know them, according to Dodge. Instead, your phone will replace the PC and you will simply connect it to a monitor.

He insists the technology sector will evolve faster in the next decade than the last in a shift to online and mobile platforms, and in the death of client-side applications.

Many of the applications that litter the mobile phone market today will be part of that cull, Dodge said, and those that survive, will so because they use a phone’s full functionality and crucially integrate the upcoming HTML5 standard, meaning they will be fully operational offline and across devices. He’s actually a little surprised that those shiny, noisy, cute apps have made it in the mobile marketplace and thinks they represent an anomaly, or a backwards step in the evolution of software.

It's a theory shared by mobile software developer, Nick Randolph who says there are plenty of half-baked apps that are dependant on Internet connectivity, and will fail or have substantially-reduced functionality when they are offline.

Dodge is a fan of phones and browsers, particularly solutions that combine the two. Not just because he’s at cloud-computing mammoth Google either — he invests his own cash into mobile technology that utilises browsers, cloud computing, HTML5, and the full functionality of the device like its camera, gyroscope and microphone.

“This mobile phone technology was hard to see 10 years ago, but smarter people than I saw it. There is still a lot more to come once we have the same explosion of bandwidth in mobiles as we have had in our homes,” Dodge said.

Is there room for Microsoft in this PC-devoid, mobile cloud-computing future? Dodge thinks so, but says Microsoft will cop a revenue bite from Google, roughly the size of the one it left in IBM during the PC-revolution.

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