Google's senior vice president of Chrome and Apps, Sundar Pichai, gave Microsoft some credit for innovating with its new Surface platform. "I think form factors need a lot of innovation," he said in reference to Surface. "It looks like they put serious effort into it."
But he was more dubious about Microsoft's odds for success, and seemed to welcome the potential disruption Windows 8 might cause among long-time Microsoft users.
"The Surface is a surprising announcement, to say the least," Pichai said at the GigaOm Structure conference in San Francisco. He noted that Microsoft has spent decades working with its ecosystem and is feeling pressure from Apple and the iPad in the fast-growing tablet market. "They are doing everything right in terms of messaging, but to me it's a very complicated strategy to pull off," he said.
It's not surprising that Google executives would cast doubt on Microsoft's new plan to seed Windows 8 around the world. Google is escalating its efforts to compete with Microsoft, using the same ecosystem model -- Google develops the software and hardware vendors make and sell the devices.
Google just announced Chromebooks built by Samsung that run the Google Chrome operating system (read the CNET review) and use its Google Docs application suite. Pichai said that sign ups for Google Apps -- its enterprise suite -- are growing at triple digit percentages and that OEMs are signing up to produce Chromebooks as well. "We have had tremendous interest from OEM partners for a while, and you will see more announcements later this year," Pichai said.
He then described the Microsoft ecosystem as "ossified" and questioned whether Windows 8 is a good fit for laptops:
Even before the Surface announcement, Windows 8 itself has been a cause of both optimism and concern among entire ecosystem. I am excited because the Windows ecosystem is in some ways ossified, and it takes time for it to change. Windows 8 is a big disruptive thing, and that is both good and an opportunity for everyone else. One of the main concerns with Windows 8 is that it is primarily designed around touch and tablets, and it's not exactly fully clear how great of an user experience it is on laptops and so on with Metro mode.
Like Microsoft and its Surface machines, Google is also using the hybrid model of working with OEM partners while competing with them, selling its own branded Chrome-based hardware. Later this month, Google is expected to unveil a 7-inch Nexus tablet, jointly developed with Asus.
Watch the interview below with GigaOm founder and senior writer, Om Malik: