Google vs Microsoft: Beyond Search

Jim Fawcette writes:

Microsoft and Google are on a collision course, but the battle is about much more than searching for Web pages.

Google has the potential to become a primary interface for computing. Much as Lotus Notes aficionados spent their entire computing lives in Notes, Google potentially could and wants to become the platform through which users view the world.

You can see this evolvingeven before Google has its IPO money to spendwith the introduction of Google News, Google Local, Gmail, Froogle, and ambitions for mobile products that are barely scratched by today’s offerings. Google already has a little publicized “enterprise appliance,” which is a server with Google search to use inside corporate firewalls.

In the extreme, this means Windows would be reduced to a bloated BIOS and a bunch of device drivers. You boot Windows, go to Google, and work from there. Microsoft kindly provides the browser stack, printer, and video drivers, so Google doesn’t have to develop or deliver them, thank you very much, but Google, in this scenario, becomes the face of computing.

Search will become exponentially more important as the costs of storage asymptotically approach zero. Vannevar Bush’s concept of a vast personal repository that stores everything about your life becomes conceivable when we all have a personal terabyte of portable storage, the focus of Microsoft Research’s MyLifeBits project.

To predict what direction Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other companies in the search business will head in, a good starting point is to figure out what business they think they are in. The classic B-school example of what not to do is the railroad industry. This was the dominant form of transportation at the turn of the century, and literally shaped much of our society. B-school logic has it that they atrophied because they thought they were in the boxes-on-rails business instead of recognizing that they were in the transportation business, otherwise today we’d be flying Union Pacific Airlines.

At a high level of abstraction, Google’s business is charging auction-based prices to advertisers while its own operating costs plummet as storage becomes nearly free. The users that do searches are merely a necessary evil, an expense of doing business. That’s quite different from Microsoft’s approach, where the individual PC user is seen as the primary customer, at least in those Microsoft groups that are most successful. Is Google a “firefly” that flits brightly and burns out, as IBM’s then-CEO Lou Gertsner derisively referred to dot-bombs in general? Or is Microsoft a railroad that won’t become an airline?

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.