Nick Carr has a brilliant analysis of the current battlefield between Google and Microsoft. Microsoft may have the most money in the bank, but Google is the one disrupting the industry and making Microsoft play by its rules.
The way Google is doing this is, as Nick suggests, a page right out of Microsoft's book:
One of the cornerstones of Microsoft's competitive strategy over the years has been to redefine competitors' products as features of its own products. Whenever some upstart PC software company started to get traction with a new application - the Netscape browser is the most famous example - Microsoft would incorporate a version of the application into its Office suite or Windows operating system, eroding the market for the application as a standalone product and starving its rival of economic oxygen (ie, cash). It was an effective strategy as well as a controversial one.
Now, though, the tables may be turning. Google is trying to pull a Microsoft on Microsoft by redefining core personal-productivity applications - calendars. word processing, spreadsheets, etc. - as features embedded in other products. There's a twist, though. Rather than just incorporating the applications as features in its own products, Google is offering them up to other companies, particularly big IT vendors, to incorporate as features in their products.
Witness the recent Salesforce.com/Google mash-up as Exhibit One.
It's too bad that Google doesn't offer its software in some open-source fashion. This would make the embedding of its applications subject to far less friction. ISVs could simply embed the Google Apps, for example, and then come back to Google when ready to go into production.
To achieve this, however, Google would need a license like the AGPL to keep ISVs honest in how they work with Google. Unfortunately, Google hasn't exactly been a friend to the AGPL, but that could change when it realizes its self-interest is at stake.