Google vs. Microsoft

Many people think Google is the greatest thing since sliced bread, perhaps in part because Google has challenged Microsoft’s dominance in the technology sector.

The reality is that while Google and Microsoft offer some competing products, their core businesses are different. Microsoft is increasingly an enterprise-focused company. Its main strength is its Windows operating system, which still dominates the desktop (though Linux and Mac OS are gaining ground). Google is consumer focused; its main strength is its large portfolio of search products, which also display ads.

While it is true that Microsoft’s software has “phone home” features inside (that’s what you get for using proprietary software, folks) the reality is that Microsoft is not engaged in the kind of massive data collection that Google is doing. Google keeps entering new markets with products that have very fuzzy privacy policies.

Microsoft has long been the target of privacy advocates, and as a consequence, they’ve cleaned up their act somewhat, because they’re a massive, mature company. They’re already had run-ins with the law and regulators. They were taken to federal court in a major antitrust case. The same cannot be said of Google.

Randall Stross sums this up very nicely:

Microsoft has seen this shift to cloud computing coming for a long time, but has been slow to adapt. The shift demands that Microsoft move in exactly the opposite direction from that which led it to dominance. Microsoft’s founding mission was to put “a computer on every desk and in every home,” in essence to decentralize computing, bringing it from the mainframe into our homes. Google is re-centralizing computing.

Which leads to the question, in light of Google’s audacious information collecting, why were we ever scared of the Microsoft Evil Empire? At the apogee of Microsoft’s power, its ability to know what its customers were doing was nil. Our information was privately stored on our PCs. But if you discard Word and Excel for Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets, your files sit on Google’s computers. And if you avail yourself of Google’s array of other free services, so do your personal calendar, your e-mail, your online shopping history, personal photos, health records and stock portfolio.

It’s a certainty more offerings will come. Google has made clear that it has no intention of excluding anything.

As monopolistic as Microsoft was and is on the desktop with its Windows operating system, Google has become equally monopolistic on the Web, with its control over the online advertising and search business. Had Google and Yahoo been allowed to ink an advertising partnership, Google would have become an unquestioned monopoly. Thankfully, that deal was torched and scuttled in fall 2008.

Still, Google remains too dominant, too powerful. It’s turned into the very thing it originally stood against. Google has become a bully and a snoop, managing to be both ignorant and defensive at the same time.

Google has become the Internet’s Microsoft.

And it is more dangerous than Microsoft because many of Google’s fans are people who should be its harshest critics. Take TechCrunch’s Duncan Riley, who wrote in 2007:

I’ve long since subscribed to the “Google is my lord and savior” argument and gave up caring about privacy and other such things years ago.

No giant for profit corporation is anyone’s “lord and savior”. Especially not a company that doesn’t know how to draw and respect boundaries. Everybody should care about their privacy and what companies like Google do with their data.