July 29, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Perspective: Whine from Google-Microsoft

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Who says geeks lack a sense of humor? If you want a few yuks, consider the latest dust-up between Microsoft and Google.

For the record, I have no idea whether Google acted improperly by hiring away former Microsoft Vice President Kai-Fu Lee. Same goes for whether there's anything to Google's complaint about Microsoft scaring employees into not doing the same. (Late Thursday a Superior Court judge in Seattle granted Microsoft's request for a temporary restraining order to stop Lee from working at the new job until the court determines whether his hiring was lawful.)

What I do know is that both companies are so full of it that you have to wonder how these guys manage to keep a straight face.

Considering the horseradish each side is slinging, that's no inconsiderable effort. The outraged hurt voiced by Microsoft and Google alike would lead one to assume that the other is the most heinous no-goodnik.

Of course it's all balderdash. This is just part of the escalating rivalry between these two Internet giants. Fact is that Microsoft is just as paranoid about Google as Google is paranoid about Microsoft.

And for good reason.

Remember how crazy Microsoft became in the mid-1990s about Netscape? Everyone from Bill Gates on down understood that Netscape's browser threatened to push aside the Windows operating system as an application development platform. That was an existential battle that brought out the best--and the worst--in Microsoft, which ultimately won the day.

Google presents a challenge of a different sort--though one that's potentially as unnerving. Some estimate that Google controls more than half the search market. But it's not the quotidian goings-on at Google that has Microsoft on edge.

Both companies are so full of it that you have to wonder how these guys manage to keep a straight face.

With the computing world moving more toward the Web, Google's become an indispensable tool for tens of millions of people. And the numbers are only going to increase. (When your company name enters the popular lexicon as a verb, it's a singular achievement.) What's more, the company keeps adding doodads as part of its perennial beta-testing of new products.

Google's execs aren't dropping hints, but what's to limit their ambition? In its recently concluded quarter, the company pulled in net income of $342.8 million on $1.38 billion in sales. There's money to fund Google's wildest dreams. Trust me, Microsoft's not so cavalier to dismiss recurring rumors about Google's plans for an operating system. Even if Google doesn't want to go that far, there's still the specter of how it might take center stage in what Tim O'Reilly describes as an "emergent Internet operating system" formed from small pieces to create a platform for a new generation of applications. In other words, Netscape redux.

Now that it's sufficiently scared the bejesus out of Microsoft, Google's got its own doomsday scenario to contemplate. Google may be hiring lots of smart engineers, but Microsoft has the company beat when it comes to experience writing applications for desktops and servers. Microsoft's already moving hard on search, which for now remains Google's bread and butter, and we'll see what else it's got coming out when the Vista version of Windows finally reaches the market next year.

Google also needs to prove it won't buckle under fire the way Netscape did when Microsoft took out the brass knuckles. Whining about Microsoft's "shocking display of hubris" isn't a promising harbinger.

They may be billionaires, but Sergey Brin and Larry Page are pikers in this business. When the heavy artillery starts to fly, the leadership needs to come from CEO Eric Schmidt. But I'm not at all convinced he's got the right stuff. Here's a guy who jumped ship when he couldn't turn around Novell. Earlier, Schmidt was part of an executive team at Sun Microsystems that never could quite figure out how to beat Microsoft.

Sorry, but he's no Bill Gates--and I know Bill Gates.

This is the main event that everyone's dying to see, but wouldn't it be refreshing if both Google and Microsoft cut out the kvetching and let their products do their talking for them? Poaching talent is just part of the game. Now just get on with it, and may the best mega-billion-dollar corporate Goliath win.

Biography
Charles Cooper is CNET News.com's executive editor of commentary.

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Counting chicken before they hatch, Coop.
Microsoft knows how to write apps for desktops and servers? Really? I must have missed that while I was watching Word repaginate my document for the sixth time in 30 seconds.

There's a huge opportunity to unseat the incumbent here, and after reading your article, I'm reminded of older articles placing bets on IBM when the PS/2 came out, the merits of Quattro Pro and Novell, and every other incumbent s/w app. All wrong bets.

If Google can navigate around Microsoft's inevitable monopolistic tactics, they will emerge victorious. The game plan to beat Microsoft is already written: write less-buggy software and preserve the usability. MS Office is ripe for destruction if you keep it easy to use, and remove the bloat, the sloth, the bugs.

-R
Posted by Remo_Williams (488 comments )
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Converging Strategies, Media, Engagement, Ad Revenue
With Google acting like a publishing network where inventory is auctioned off in real time and MSN building AdCenter, the strategies of Google and Microsoft are converging. The tactical differences and execution will make the difference in the end. Both have huge cash reserves.
Posted by Diditcom (1 comment )
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I Agree 100%
Very well thought out.
Posted by hpwray (2 comments )
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Microsoft should change logo
Microsoft should change their logo to look like Parker Brothers Monopoly game. I dislike MSN and netpass por. Anything connected to it requires logging in to netpassport. No, thanks. In addition to that gripe, Microsoft sold Windows XP when it was ridden with flaws and had more patches than a quilt. Now they are rushing on to Longhorn/VISTA/whatever they are calling it this week. How long before they stop supporting XP. Many schools (because of lack of funding) are just now getting around to upgrading to XP from windows 95 and 98. The upgrade to XP will still soon leave them falling behind now that Microsoft's focus is on their new operating system. That's Microsoft, make the latest and greatest outdated as soon as everyone has it rather than providing updates and version upgrades for an affordable prices. They try to keep everyone out of the operating, internet and software business. Just like when they took over Giant AntiSpyware. It was a great product until Microsoft took over. They also want to get into the antivirus business. They need to stop putting their fingers in everyone else's pie and concentrate on making sure their operating systems are secure and backed with decent support.
Posted by (1 comment )
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Foolish statement
"That's Microsoft, make the latest and greatest outdated as soon as everyone has it rather than providing updates and version upgrades for an affordable prices."

I love this comment. It's very simply one of the most absurd and foolish comments possible.

Following this logic, we should all be viewing websites on Apple IIs, TRS-80s, or VIC-20s (depending on who was the first), supplemented with 20 years of "updates and version upgrades." Maybe we should all ditch our safe cars and drive "upgraded" Model-Ts. Or, maybe we should ground all aircraft and go back to the good 'ol days of the Wright Brothers.

Very simply, advancement sometimes requires building on the old, yet starting from a new perspective. In the computer world, this sometimes means that we change OS bases (ahem... Tiger anyone?), or that disk-management needs to change, or... well, you get the point.

Technology moves fast; deal with it.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
In all honesty
Why is it if you take a job in almost any non technical field, you do not have to sign an NDA or a non compete agreement.

The fact that they try to enforce it is complete crapola. Should I as a citizen be able to choose who and when I work for someone?

The corporations again show they run the country if you ask me.
Posted by (1 comment )
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I really hate non-compete clauses
To me they are soft-slavery. In the past some people surrendered to indentured servitude and we know how well *that* turned out.

People should get paid in order to *do* something. Not get paid in order to *not* do something for someone else. This sort of nonsense reminds me of the agricultural subsidies they give in the EU to farmers so they do not produce anything.
Posted by quasarstrider (439 comments )
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Usual Microshaft Garbage
First, I liked the article, although disagree with some points. And for the record, Ballmer is MS CEO, not Bill Gates. You can't have a double standard e.g. Brin and Page don't run the show, but Gates does? We all know Brin and Page run the show over there at 100 zeros. What is the ratio of the number of times we have seen Page and Brin for an event vs. the official Google, Inc. CEO? We've seen Ballmer quite a bit, but usually he's making an ass of himself e.g. "developers! developers! developers!" or the famous Linux threats. The fact is, the public much favors the "omniscient Google to the omnipotent Microsoft." (WIRED Magazine 07.2005) And I was skeptical about google, with all that free stuff they offer, but with those earnings numbers, that causes you to think. I don't think Ballmer or Gates would give free downloads to their own mothers. How else can you become the wealthiest person on earth and control a whopping 95 % of the operating system market? Monopoly, monopoly, monopoly. I also agree with the respondant who stated that MS sucks at app development. I must agree. And I'll add server development to that pot as well. We use Mac, Windows, and Linux servers where I work. Basically with the new OS, Mac servers are UNIX, so we're working with stable and unstable. Windows holds up to its repuation, with techs in the office about once a week. For the other servers, hell would have broken loose for that kind of frequency. Maybe once a month to check up on data or fix intermittent bugs. I don't know about the rest, but I use gmail. In its beta release, BETA for God's sake, gmail was already better than the the latest release of the current hotmail or MSN. MS has always made crap software. They did when they tried to copy Apple. But where Apple failed, Google is already succeeding. Google has a much better and more open strategy, and it is king of a completely different market. Search engines are not synonymous with operating systems. I must also disagree that Google is not whining. I'd call Microshaft a whining company; Google is flat out attacking. When MS submitted the law suit, Google called it a "charade." Whining would be "daddy, Microsoft is picking on us." They flat out called Microsoft actors, and MS hasn't had to deal with that from an opponent until after the opponent was conquered. Jobs and Gates lock horns frequently, but not 20 years ago. Nobody pays attention to what Netscape folks say. Other competitors probably don't have terribly nice things to say either. The fact is, we all knew this duel would come. It's somewhat revolting how inane it is. Noncompete agreements? What the hell are those? I could see protection from trade secrets. But really, 18 months is the doubling time in computers. Moore seems to have been correct thus far. The ONLY area where MS and the big G compete is in search. Microsoft has it's office suite, operating system, gaming platform, server applications, PC gaming software, search, ISP, and a score of other services. Google offers what? A search engine, some free applications e.g. Picasa, Google Earth, Desktop Search, and gmail. The search engine was Microsoft's emergence in the market, trying to control yet another aspect of the computer industry. Do we, the public, feel comfortable with Microsoft controlling so much? I have to agree with Robin Williams on this one: Bill Gates seems to be saying "Monopoly is just a game, Senator. I'm trying to control the world!"
--Andrew Elgert
Posted by CNerd2025 (98 comments )
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Competition clause
I can get excited about the prospect of Google excelerating the development of internet based OS as much as anyone else, but this focus on Lee seems over dramatic. I have had to sign anti-competition clauses prior to employment. Any company, not just IT related, wants to privatize their development efforts. These clauses have been around forever.
Posted by (1 comment )
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charles cooper is a sad sad man
charles cooper is a sad sad man
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
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so what's your point?
No point in saying that if you're not going to back it up. It's like me saying your mother is so stupid... What's the point?
Posted by papifrank (21 comments )
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Why?
Nothing wrong with Coop's corner. I like the articles.
Posted by R. U. Sirius (745 comments )
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piorities out of place!
I think google better find some real business to engage in. If they think people are going to forever use their search engine, they're fatally mistaken. At this point they control the airways, that won't last. Soon a comparable service, maybe with better results is going to emerge and the "COOL" factor wouldn't be enough to keep current users from defecting. As for M$, they have their piorities all out of whack, they think google is the threat?????LUNIX!!!IDIOTS. I already bought my last windows desktop (so they can stuff VISTA or whatever it is called somewhere) a year ago, many PC users have already past that milestone and have gone entirely Linux/Tiger...etc.
Posted by bit-looter (51 comments )
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There's More Than Enough To Go Around
Don't these monkeys know that more than 48 million computers sold during the last quarter? With that many curious critters just waiting to look at anything that might work even a little better, the curiosity factor alone will turn a tidy profit.

So . . . . . I say thumbs up to both of them. Innovate something a little better; and get rich. With things going the way they are they will both probably need a bunch more to keep pocket change. At least another trillion or so if they plan to retire.

"Hrumph!"
Posted by (3 comments )
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Correction
"This is just part of the escalating rivalry between these two Internet giants."

Sorry, I don't agree with you. Google is an Internet giant, very true, but Microsoft isn't. Microsoft is an "aspiring Internet giant" if you might. Basically, Microsoft is a desktop giant trying to make its presence felt in a number of other areas, including the Internet. But whether it can be called a "Giant" in any of these areas is open to question.

However, not on the Internet surely. What are Microsoft's claims to be called one? Not MSN search anyday. Comparing MSN search to Google search is like comparing ant to elephant. Perhaps MSNBC, I am not sure.

Really Microsoft has never understood the Internet and ways to make money online. Google on the other hand has many firsts to its claim - first search engine to use page ranks and anchor text, first to index a billion web pages, first to
invent key-word based advertising (Adsense). Of course Google maps is not something new, but they
popualarized an esoteric technology and brought it to people in a fast, easy to use interface. MSN is again a follower there with MSN virtual earth.

Take any aspect of Internet and you see that
Microsoft has always lagged and only does something when innovators such as Google show the way. So please stop calling Microsoft an Internet giant. It clearly does not make sense. Google, Yahoo! O.K, not Microsoft.
Posted by pythonhacker (71 comments )
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Give Eric another chance ...
I agree that Eric is not Bill Gates. I also agree that he failed to lead Sun (and later Novell) to be competitive players in a highly competitive world.

The difference may come from their background. Given Eric is merely an for-hire executive, his power is limited, so is his desire to compete. On the contrary, Bill is in a unique situation (founder, major share holder, technology enthusiastic) that gives him more reasons to be a tough competitor.

I dont think Eric is dumb or incapable. He may need something like Google to excel. Let's wait
and see before jumping into conclusion based on
prejudice.
Posted by petermpham2003 (20 comments )
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