Monday, 15 August 2011

Google's Not New Microsoft

Despite what a significant (or at least an influential) part of the tech press is trying to tell you, Google is not the new Microsoft.

If you're not old enough to remember the really bad old Microsoft days you may be excused for buying the argument you are presented with. After all, it is in fact mostly the older journalists who tend to forward it. And knowing they have been there and have seen it certainly gives their argument added weight. It also means they can craft their argument in a very deceivingly persuasive way.

However, and despite a lot of correct analysis they proffer, their final conclusion is wrong. For all its failings, mistakes, and blunders, Google is not, and never will be the new Microsoft. Yes, it has virtual monopoly over web search (and a good few other things). Yes, their promise of a "completely open" Android is misleading, to say the least. And yes, it does not always follow its creed to "do no evil".

And yet, there is a major difference between all these failings, and the way Microsoft ruled the computer world in its heyday. The difference should be blindingly obvious, but if you haven't live the "Microsoft years" you may miss it quite easily. And this difference can be summed up in a word. Or rather, two words: one for Microsoft, and the other for Google.

Let's hear them now, then: Microsoft, a stifler - Google, an enabler.

Yes, it's that simple. And here's how:

As the end user, ever since the days of MS DOS, I have always felt constrained by what Microsoft offered as "user experience". Yes, there were productivity gains, but they always came with a heavy dose of "you can't get there from here". There was always the sense that a better solution is possible, and may even have been available for a little while, until Microsoft arrived and offered its vision of how things should be done. And then, using its well known corporate muscle, it would just trample over superior products and ideas and leave the carnage in its wake, the carnage mostly having the shape of wavy windows...

On the other hand, from the word Go, Google has been an enabler. All the products and services it offered actually made me do things in a better and easier way. Most importantly, they made me feel liberated every step of the way. Switching to a Google product always felt the right thing to do, and the existing competition did not die for being small, but not being good enough. Even when it copied, Google added value. True, sometimes the added value was a bit intangible. Like, while I (may) have to buy my apps through Android Market (or not, there's alternatives), at least I can take them with me to my next device. Oh, yes: iTunes allows that, too, but with a difference: you are restricted to just one manufacturer who has only one product to offer. Sorry, but I prefer to be able to shop for a different phone every time I need a new one.

And so on, and so forth. If you allow yourself to think about things that really matter, you will likely find that your Microsoft experience (even now, but even more back then) well and truly stifles you. If a company is a new Microsoft today, surely it is Apple. At least for those who have decided to drink Apple's Kool-Aid, bless their little pleasures.

So, don't listen to just about anybody telling you how Google is new Microsoft. While it may yet has a chance to mess up, it has so far been a force for he good. If you are a phone manufacturer, you may not be happy that you need to compete on hardware rather than have users locked in by the OS, but then it's been a while since pretty much all software has become a commodity.

And, as a matter of fact, I don't think we'll see the like of the Microsoft of the yesteryears. Even if having massive resources is still quite essential for mega success, the bar for entry into the game has been lowered so much it is barely distinguishable from the ground you stand on. Got an idea? Got time and wherewithal to learn some light programming skills? Yes, and yes? Go ahead, shell out $10 on a domain name, only a little bit more for some entry level web hosting, and off you go. If you're capable and/or lucky you can even hope for making it all the way to the top on your own. If you're capable and/or lucky you will be gobbled up by someone bigger. Yes, you'll probably not enjoy the limelight alone, but you will succeed anyway, and your idea will become a part of the human heritage (even if it does little more than ... whatever).

Finally, from where I sit - and where I sat when Microsoft was the Evil Empire - it seems quite clear that Microsoft slowed the progress way down, while Google... well, it is in large part the enabler of it.