Watching the chatter swirling around Microsoft and Google over the last decade has been quite an experience to say the least.
Obviously, much has changed over the years, so I thought it would be fun to go back and take a look at how the two industry heavyweights started and where they utlimately ended up.
Truthfully, the idea for writing this article was prompted by a conversation I had this morning about Stanford University. Specifically, we were discussing how the students have noticeably shifted alliances dramatically over the last decade.
A scant ten year ago they hated Microsoft and Google was the White Knight, yet it is truly amazing how those positions have reversed today. Let’s explore this.
Google v. Microsoft in the Beginning
Google was formed at a time when Microsoft was not so jokingly referred to as the "Evil Empire." As you may recall, Redmond dominated operating systems, browsers, and office productivity applications. It was also steadily gaining dominance in the server market, but corporate buyers, consumers, and PC OEMs were increasingly frustrated with a company that seemed to have lost track of their needs and where, if you looked up the word arrogance, the one word definition would have been Microsoft.
Google came to market riding a wave of anti-Microsoft sentiment, and appeared to be the valiant White Knight pitted against Microsoft’s roaring dragon. They wanted to displace, hell, kill Microsoft. But, almost as if they were acting out a drama (core of power corrupts plot lines - maybe Google should remember Spiderman - "with great power etc."), or had missed the class on conflict management, where the hero over time becomes an even worse villain, Google changed.
Essentially, Google started off as a search company. Ads were perceived as little more than a necessary evil to generate money and fund the firm. However, Mountain View's ad effort was so successful that it eventually consumed the company.
The most fascinating aspect of all this? The apparent internal dislike for ads as something "unclean." Yet, the now conflicted company appears focused (perhaps a better word would be addicted) on the revenue the ads generate. Anecdotally, it is probably worth noting that the most consistent reason given by departing disenchanted Google employees is they didn’t get a degree in computer science to sell advertising.
This internal conflict appears to inherently corrupt, by driving individuals to do something rank and file employees believe is somehow wrong. This discrepancy is likely severely damaging Google’s ability to execute.
One of the most fascinating conflicts to watch is Google with its Android and Chrome operating systems.
Remember, Redmond originally dominated both the PC and smartphone (then an emerging category) markets - even forcing Palm Hardware to step away from their own OS and adopt Microsoft’s.
But Microsoft seemed to forget that it was outsourced software and eventually stopped listening to the OEMs. This allowed Apple to sweep in and own the emerging segment, along with Google which largely displaced them with Android. All Google had to do was to avoid making the same mistake, realize they were now outsourced software, and keep the OEMs happy.
Instead, Google fragmented its own code base and created Chrome OS, which sold rather horribly. And, rather than listen more closely to OEMs, Mountain View actually seemed to listen even less than Microsoft. Initially, the OEMs appeared to be willing to do anything to get rid of Redmond, yet now they seem to be willing to do anything to get Microsoft to give them something comparable to Android. This scenario reminds me of a guy I know who left his wife for a hot secretary. On the way out the door he was all starry eyed and glowing, but then he realized the secretary was certifiably insane. Unfortunately, there was no way of putting that Jennie back in the bottle.
With Microsoft, the corporation's most evil behavior was tied to its tendency to aggressively attack competitors. One example? Netscape, which MS went out of its way to destroy, yet eventually became the source of anti-trust pain for Microsoft after it failed in market. The irony is that Netscape imploded, even though what Microsoft had tried to do against the company was largely ineffective. This is like watching someone try to rob a café where an entire police department hangs out. In short, Microsoft got punished for being an idiot.
Currently, Google’s most evil behavior has to do with privacy and Mountain View almost seems to have adopted a Machiavellian approach to the whole issue. The corporation has done this to such an extreme that it has apparently hacked both Safari and IE to overcome user settings in an effort to capture and share private information with advertisers.
This is kind of like putting a pick pocket at the door of your café to increase profits. Strangely it is almost as if Google looked back at Microsoft’s behavior, said "what cowards," and decided to out evil them.
Wrapping Up: Stanford University
Stanford is what incubated Google and, as we noted above, Google’s generation came to market hating Microsoft because they believed this massive software giant was destroying innovation in the market. This seemed rather ironic given that Microsoft was a major funding source for the computer science program at the university.
Now, however, if you go to Stanford and ask about Microsoft, well, folks are talking about working with them. Meanwhile, Google is hated because students believe Mountain View steals ideas and then destroys them by failing to properly execute. Personally, I actually think part of the problem is that at schools like Stanford, mistakes aren't presented as "teachable moments," so graduates appear to repeat the mistakes of those who preceded them.
It seems like after a decade of working to displace Microsoft, Google has apparently succeeded, not in business, but in their alma mater by becoming the new most hated software company in the world. Well at least they aren’t cowards like Microsoft, right?