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Can Microsoft Save Us From Google World Domination?

Maybe it's got something to do with rampant stories about identity theft, or maybe it's a result (or the cause) of the return of the horror movie to cultural prominence in recent years, or maybe it's some sort of unfortunate lingering after-effect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks...or maybe we just like to be freaked out. But if any word describes how we tend to react to things in the United States of late, it's "panic."

Just look at the press this week. No less of an opinion influencer than BusinessWeek -- perhaps this country's finest weekly news magazine, period (given that The Economist is British) -- devoted its cover story to the question of whether Google is too powerful. BW did an excellent job (and, no, we haven't applied for jobs there -- we just feel this way) of canvassing the general freak-out about Google that's currently taking place in boardrooms. It's a dread that's spanning the technology, publishing, advertising and entertainment industries -- among others.

The fear is that that Google -- with its mysterious algorithms, omnipresent search engine and hunger to catalog every datum coughed up by humankind -- will eventually dominate world commerce. It might even pose a threat to America's national defense. Already, apparently, Google has an "image problem" that's hindering its ability to cut deals and perhaps encouraging huge lawsuits.

We say "already" because Google isn't even quite a decade old. It took IBM decades to become the technology industry's most feared (and often hated) entity; it took Microsoft years. But now, in the age of panic, lots of observers are worried that Google is an unstoppable monster that must be curbed before it eats the whole economy. Why, just this week, we learned that Google has started talking about buying online ad broker DoubleClick, a company that seemed last week to be almost promised to Microsoft as a key part of Redmond's quixotic effort to catch Google in the search game.

Now Microsoft, still the devil in many observers' eyes, is in the unfamiliar position of being the world's only potential savior from some other rampant corporate entity. By buying DoubleClick and Yahoo! (as we say hello to that old rumor again), Microsoft might be able to at least put a dent in Google's Internet hegemony. But if the acquisition doesn't happen, Redmond will doom us mere mortals forever to live in Google's world of unrelenting efficiency and accessibility of information. The horror.

All of this, of course, is ridiculous. First of all, many of us (as BW points out) don't want to be saved from Google and the services it provides. Those services have generally made us more productive and enhanced our computing experiences and lives. But it's also ridiculous because Microsoft isn't a search company (outside of enterprise search, maybe, which is a bit of a different game) and because Google is bound to miss something (we don't know what yet, but something).

Apple missed licensing its operating system. IBM missed client-server computing. Microsoft missed the Internet, tried to make up for it by crushing Netscape, and then got blindsided by Google and search. As Google grows -- and its employee count is currently about 12,000 -- and becomes more influential, its leaders will have to focus more on the company's stock price and corporate standing than on innovation and market trends. And somebody will sneak up behind it, develop some sort of new model and hit Google where it hurts. In other words, innovation and the free market will take care of themselves -- and of us. No need to panic.

How worried are you about Google taking over the world? What do you think of Microsoft's efforts to catch Google? We've had some great comments on this already. Friday is going to be reader e-mail day at RCPU, so hit me this week with your thoughts at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 04/03/2007 at 1:20 PM


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