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Microsoft and Comcast Go After the Little Guy

Comcast wants to be so much more than "the cable company." It's pushing itself to be an ambitious entertainment and business enterprise, complete with TV networks of its own and "business-class" technology services.

We digress here, so just skip the next two paragraphs if you want to get to the relevant stuff: Comcast reminds us here at RCPU a bit of a miniature version of Vivendi (formerly Vivendi Universal -- nothing ambitious about that name), the French company that started as a water utility in the 19th century and eventually grew to own a considerable chunk of the entertainment industry. When your editor moved to Paris in 2001, Vivendi Universal and its then-CEO, Jean-Marie Messier, were the stuff of legends and a huge source of pride in France.

Then, Vivendi Universal lost tons of money because it had made a bunch of bad acquisitions; Messier fell from his perch and the French went back to disdaining big business and worshipping food and wine (not that there's anything wrong with that -- and Vivendi is actually still very big). Comcast is -- hopefully, for its sake -- making wiser decisions about where and how to spend its money.

So this week, Comcast revealed that it has an agreement with Microsoft to provide some basic, Internet-based applications to customers who subscribe to Comcast's business-Internet service. We're talking e-mail and "calendaring" (since when was the word "calendar" a verb?) along with some basic file-sharing capabilities.

Analysts have already pegged the deal as a shot by Microsoft at Google Apps, Google's Web-based productivity suite. But, unless we're misunderstanding things, Microsoft's Comcast bundle will do a lot less than Google Apps -- we don't see a spreadsheet or a Word processor -- and it'll only do it for Comcast customers. It seems to have about as much functionality in comparison to Google Apps as Google Apps has juxtaposed to Microsoft Office -- which is to say, not much. Of course, the Microsoft bundle is free with a Comcast subscription.

But with all the free e-mail applications that have been on the Web for more than a decade now, we're kind of wondering what the point of this deal is. Maybe it's just to get people thinking of Microsoft in a "Web 2.0" context. Or maybe it's to get people thinking of Comcast in a serious business context. Or, most likely, both.

Does Microsoft need to worry about Google Apps? Why? Why not? Tell me at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on 11/15/2007 at 1:21 PM


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