Google Gets Another Leg Up on Microsoft?

Google executives over the past year or more have talked about how important mobile computing products and services are to its future. Yesterday, it put its money -- a lot of money -- where its mouth is.

The company is kicking in $500 million to building a wireless data network. Also contributing to the project are Sprint, Intel, Time Warner, Clearwire and Comcast, among others. A spokesman for the group at yesterday's announcement said the total value of the project is $14.5 billion. Read up on the details in this New York Times link from RedmondReport.com.

Google's participation in this project is part of the company's overall push to encourage and promote greater open access to the Internet, which supposedly would give business users and consumers more choice and freedom in choosing services. Now, Google, of course, hopes users will select its services along with the accompanying ads the company would be pushing out to hundreds of millions of handheld devices. This move also serves to complement Google's recent moves to establish free wi-fi access in some key geographic areas -- some of which have failed and some of which have succeeded.

Given the escalation in the war for advertising dollars between Google and Microsoft (among a couple of other related battles going on between the two companies), one has to wonder why Microsoft hasn't joined this group or tried to gather its own collection of business partners to get into this game.

While Redmond has spent over three months fruitlessly trying to acquire Yahoo (and who knows if it's done yet), to further its online fortunes, Google appears to be successfully pushing into yet another area that could help its online strategies enormously. It may now be at the point where Microsoft -- if it hopes to maintain pace with Google in this area -- needs to acquire its own telecommunications company and set it up as an arm's-length subsidiary.

Chairman Bill Weighs In on Yahoo
Holding forth in a Tokyo press conference yesterday, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates didn't seem at all ruffled by Microsoft's failed attempt to acquire Yahoo. And he didn't seem all that worked up about immediately jumping back into the game to acquire another company that might provide at least some of the technology and market presence Yahoo possesses, either.

Instead, he coolly said that Microsoft is now focused on developing and evolving its own products and services for the online world. Microsoft, he said, had spent enough time trying to drag the Yahoo deal over the goal line, but that the company simply decided the value of the deal wasn't worth the time it could instead spend pursuing its own home-grown strategy.

The question, of course, is what exactly that strategy is. The company has a tangle of different pieces that could be put together to formulate something that could eventually compete against Google (assuming it could come up with a much better search engine), but how long is that going to take? Too long, I suspect. The thing about Google is that unlike any other competitor Microsoft has faced, Google is large and fast-moving -- an elephant with cheetah-like speed.

Microsoft could forge a series of other partnerships or buy several other companies that could serve to bolster its online efforts, but that could take a year or two to complete and then integrate seamlessly into its strategic fabric. Gates' low-energy reaction to the Yahoo deal makes you wonder if he knows something we don't in terms of Microsoft's next move, or if he's so focused on his foundation work that he just can't summon up his old passion.

Mac Under Attack
The long-held perception that Windows has been the almost-exclusive OS target for hackers might be about to change. According to an upcoming book by David Harley called OS X Exploits and Defense, Windows will have to share that exclusivity with Apple's Mac OS X.

Rather surprisingly, according to Harley, Apple in 2007 issued over 100 security patches for OS X, which may rattle the belief that the operating system is relatively invulnerable to attacks. Harley references statistics from the National Vulnerability Database that records a whopping increase of 228 percent in the annual vulnerability rate for Apple's product. Windows, over the same period of time, racked up a 73 percent increase, also nothing to write home about.

And the bad news for Apple doesn't stop there. Harley writes that with the explosion in sales of the iPod over the past couple of years, Apple's consumer products are increasingly in the crosshairs of malware assassins.

As Joe Louis famously said of Billy Conn just before their first title fight in 1941, "He can run, but he can't hide." It seems users wanting to run from Windows to escape hackers can't hide in the sanctuary that was the Mac OS.

Mailbag: Zune vs. iPod
As a "recent iPod convert," Lafe asked readers yesterday what their own preferences are when it comes to media players. Here are some of your responses:

I have both. Content is king, features are secondary. On my Zune for $15 a month, I get all the music I can handle. My iPod costs money for every song. Therefore, I use my Zune.
-Milton

I have been using a Zune 80 since Christmas of 2007. Being Canadian, I had to jump through a few hoops to get one, but I absolutely HAD to have it. My Zune rocks! I love the screen size and the storage capacity. I watch movies on it all the time when I am on the train, and the picture is totally viewable and it sounds great.

I do have a few minor complaints though. Chief among them is that I have been unable to access the Zune Marketplace (until yesterday). I couldn't even create a Zune tag, so I have been unable to download songs, videos or podcasts. I am hoping to see some decent games and other applications (in particular, an e-book reader would be really nice) become available for the Zune, now that Microsoft has released XNA Game Studio 3.0.
-Rick

I'm a Zuner, and therefore my family is as well. I love the subscription service, which iPod does NOT have. Microsoft is really doing a pretty good job at making an enormous number of tunes available just through the subscription, which is great for us, since we get bored easily and move on to other things.

One improvement that would be excellent and perhaps even move the Zune into a much larger market share: Make the Zune accessories available at Wal-Mart stores everywhere. I get mad when I see the glut of iWhatever and basically nothing for Zune, except for an overpriced casing and the plastic gift cards. WHO CARES? Give me a dumb little alarm clock that my Zune will sit on, play through and charge, and I'll feel much more at ease in those aisles. Best yet, push the iJunk over and give equal shelf frontage to Zune accessories.
-Bill

Let's see, buy something from a company that innovates and is always trying to lead the industry, or buy something from a company that at best can copy the leader. I think I will go with the innovator -- plus, Consumer Reports just rated Apple at the top for tech support. My wife dropped her iPod two days before the warranty ran out. A quick e-mail to Apple tech support and within a week there was a new iPod on our doorstep.

No, I think I will stick with Apple as long as it remembers who brought it to the dance and keeps up the good tech support and innovation.
-Ken

I will not buy a Zune (and I have looked at them) until I can play my large selection of Audible.com books on them.
-Gjeret

Actually, I use a Windows Mobile device (HTC something or other). Why hasn't MSFT pushed it more? My phone has everything the iPod/iPhone have to offer -- well, minus the really cool I-want-function of the touch screen. Do I need a touch screen? No. Does it make things easier? Sometimes. But with this phone, I've carried a large amount of my music, had a phone, contacts, e-mail (corporate and regular), games and Internet for over six years.

Oh, and movies or TV shows on a 2x3 screen -- please, give me a break. At home, people are buying the biggest LCD screen they can, and then watching the show on a 2x3 screen. Why am I the only one that sees something screwy here?
-Kevin

Tell us what you think! Leave a comment below or send an e-mail to escannell@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Ed Scannell is the editor of Redmond magazine.

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