Barney's Rubble

Rose-Colored Google Glasses

Can Google -- or some other company -- change the world of computing?

When I think of Google, I think of a darn good search engine. When the lemmings in the press think of Google, they think of a company that has Microsoft on the ropes and is landing blow after vicious blow—like Foreman in the fourth round against Ali.

Just because Google has a cool name (that's both a noun and verb), a huge market cap and a massive (but unsustainable) P/E multiple, it must be poised to take over the world.

This was the same group of writers that fell over Netscape, Java and AOL, each of which was going to send Bill Gates to the poor farm. In the face of each threat, Microsoft was a monolithic, slow-moving, money-grubbing technological dolt. And each of these competitors was ultimately squashed.

One reason Microsoft always wins is that it takes every competitor, no matter how lame, seriously. It's fun to see Redmond react. First, top executives get defensive and hostile and then the programmers get to work. Microsoft is just now getting over the hostile stage, and as we speak developers are coding away on a few potential Google killers.

So what prompted this diatribe? A rash of articles that have Google poised to overthrow Office, just because Google has made some vague pronouncements of what it might do with OpenOffice, an open source suite that pretty much anyone can toy with. OpenOffice has almost no market share, yet the idea of hosting it on Google is suddenly, somehow a major threat.

Microsoft has already responded with its somewhat-less-vague announcement of OfficeLive, a set of Web services for productivity.

Doug Barney Monopolies take a long time to die. It took the entire U.S. federal government to kill off AT&T. Office and Windows may be impossible to kill without a similar legal mandate—something the feds tried and failed. In fact, we're exploring this topic in a future issue—what would cause you to move off of Windows clients and Office? Write me at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

In some ways, Google is already the next Microsoft. It dominates a market, leverages it to enter new markets like maps, e-mail and desktop searches, and has a growing list of enemies who spin out conspiracy theories like Rumpelstiltskin with his piles of gold.

Despite all the fawning, Google isn't so much an inventor as it is an imitator who perfects the ideas of others (sound familiar?). Search? Google was far from the first. Web e-mail? Hmmm, wasn't Hotmail out long before Gmail? And an Office suite? Who invented that concept?

And why does Google have to be viewed in relation to Microsoft? Isn't the very nature of innovation the act of doing something completely different? So Google's true success should have nothing to do with existing Microsoft businesses.

Don't get me wrong. Google is a superb company. I want Google to do what the articles say it will do. I want Google, or somebody, to change the world of computing. But do it in a way that is completely its own.

More Information

Google in the media: "Google: The Next Microsoft? Noooo!" ""Is Google the Next Microsoft?"

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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