Google Plays Offense, Microsoft Defense
by Tony Kontzer
If there was any remaining doubt that Google had established itself as Microsoft's Public Enemy No. 1, it's officially gone.
The companies' dueling announcements last week -- Microsoft with its Bing "decision engine," and Google with its Wave collaborative communication app -- made it abundantly clear the two rivals are zeroed in on each other, but for very different reasons.
Google, as always, is on the offensive. First, it did for search what Microsoft couldn't by establishing it as the ubiquitous thread of the Internet. Then it came out with its suite of Google Apps, which isn't going to unseat Microsoft Office any time soon but is certainly gaining traction with small companies that rely on cloud computing for their IT services.
Now, Wave--once it becomes available later this year--ups the ante. It goes to right of the heart of so much of what Microsoft has been trying to accomplish over the past decade. E-mail? Check. Instant messaging? Check. Real-time collaboration, including drag-and-drop use of documents, photos and video? Check. Except it will be brought together in a single, intermingled, linear communication "wave."
It's pretty obvious that with Wave, Google is attempting to take the reins in an area that many had assumed would eventually be Microsoft's domain, especially in the wake of its 2005 acquisition of Groove Networks. (And, incidentally, the Groove technology will be renamed SharePoint WorkSpace next year when it's bundled with Microsoft's longtime collaboration platform as part of the release of Office 2010. Think Google had that date circled on its calendar when it decided to unwrap Wave in late 2009?)
Conversely, Microsoft's Bing--which is now available in Googlesque beta--seems downright defensive in comparison. Microsoft at one time fancied itself an emerging leader in search, but it's never been able to garner the endless momentum that's made Google the world's dominant search engine. And no matter how much Bing can understand and mine data, we all know Google will turn around and out-do anything Microsoft can come up with.
In a way, Bing is reminiscent of the Zune, Microsoft's feeble attempt to unseat the iPod, a move that was doomed from the moment that it was concocted. I'm not here to suggest Microsoft is an empire that's ready to fall. The era of the desktop operating system still has life in it. Microsoft has strong footholds in the business software and server markets, and it's also claimed a nice piece of the video game sector with the Xbox. But it's hard not to look at all the ways technology is evolving into a service-based, device-centric paradigm, and all the ways in which Microsoft is being beaten in its attempts to establish itself in that new paradigm, and not wonder whether we're seeing some serious chinks form in the Microsoft armor.
Which makes me wonder: In the eyes of CIOs, what will a world with a feebler Microsoft look like? If Google has any say about it, they'll all find out sooner rather than later.