Thursday, May 05, 2005

Can Bill Gates Slow Google Down?

Picture credit: ZDnet Korea
Excel web sharing - spreadsheet collaboration over the Internet made easy with BadBlueFortune Magazine features a great article on the challenges Microsoft faces from Google's juggernaut. The amazing list of innovations -- think Google Maps, Google Mail, Blogger, and the nearly omniscient Google search engine -- are jaw-droppingly good.

Okay, let me sidetrack my narrative for a moment. If you haven't experimented heavily with Google's search engine (and only a few serious geek losers like me have), you'll find that it is:

  • A calculator (type in 5250 * 1818 into the search box)

  • A dictionary (type in define staid)

  • An address and phone book (type in David Smith, Boston Mass)

  • A patent lookup engine (type in patent followed by a patent number)

  • A UPS/Fedex tracking system (type in a tracking number)

  • A stock-quotation device (type in GOOG)

  • An airport traffic checker (type in sfo airport)

  • An airline flight status system (type in a flight number like ual 134)

  • A spell-checker

  • A VIN -- vehicle identification number -- tracker (type in a VIN number)

  • An FAA airplane registration system

  • A UPC code lookup engine

  • An area-code cheat sheet (type in 404)

  • and so forth

  • Think it's hard for the other search engines to match up? One word: ayup.

    Google's method is to overwhelm the competition with technical innovation, giving lie to academic poseurs like Nicholas Carr, who claim that 'IT doesn't matter.' Google's IT innovation -- I mean order-of-magnitude leaps like Google Maps' use of AJAX -- has resulted in billions in market capitalization. And the same can be said for other IT innovators, even staid insurance companies like Progressive.

    Google spurs its innovation by encouraging scientists and engineers to devote 20% of their time to pet projects. Gems like Google News and Orkut sprung from 'hobby' sites created by creative entrepeneur-employees at G-ville.

    The latest? A downloadable tool that speeds up web surfing using Google's outrageously scalable (and - uhmm - Linux-based) infrastructure.

    This is where things get real, real risky for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).

    The desktop has always been Microsoft's to control. But small inroads -- like the acceleration engine and the desktop search product -- are encroaching on Gates' turf. And they're as welcome there as the Bloods are twelve blocks into Crips territory.

    To add to this ominous (well, ominous as far as Microsoft's shareholders are concerned) behavior, Google's rumblings towards the Mozilla/Firefox browser are -- at best -- worrisome. Because the browser has, for many classes of application, become the de facto desktop, the sonar pings are coming louder and faster at Gates' lakefront manse.

    Firefox's usage rates are already skyrocketing due to the pandemic of security issues with Internet Explorer: the unfortunately named IE trojan-hider called Browser Helper Objects (or BHO's, for short) are examples of egregious shortcomings in IE's security architecture.

    Now imagine Firefox tightly integrated with all of Google's offerings. And here's the kicker:

    A lightweight plug-in installer that instantly adds browser support for any of Google's newly hatched research projects

    I'll give you an example. Say you're starving - you were in meetings all day and missed lunch. You do a Google search (from the integrated Firefox/Google search bar) for pizza topeka. The browser gives you a list of pizza places and their phone-numbers... and also adds a Dial Now button that places the call for you. And it'll make a VoIP call if your computer is so equipped. And, yes, you need to place a voice-call to see if they have the jalapeno and banana special that you used to order in LA. Cool, eh?

    Imagine a browser that is tightly integrated with Google. A browser that is multi-platform: Linux, Windows, PocketPC, Symbian, Blackberry, etc. A browser that... becomes your operating system.

    No wonder MSFT's market cap hasn't budged since Google rose to prominence.

    In my estimation, Microsoft has to concentrate on one thing -- and one thing alone. And it's not security, though heaven knows that  remains a concern. Microsoft needs:


    I'm not talking about making Outlook or Access or Excel easier to use (though products such as Access routinely get their asses kicked by products like Alpha Five, from tiny companies, due mostly to learning curve). No, I'm specifically focusing on IT ease-of-use. Reducing complexity. Making IT simple.

    Seen the Visual Studio .NET interface lately? If there were more windows -- all purportedly there to make life easier -- you'd have a skyscraper.

    Tried to deploy a .NET thick-client (WinForms) app? Talk about bringing on the pain. Yeah, I really want to make 80% of my users download the 25 Mb .NET runtime -- to get my 1 Mb app to run -- and hope the install takes. This is what Mark Lucovsky talked about when he said Microsoft no longer knew how to ship software.

    Seen a great piece of software out of MSFT lately? Maybe, just maybe, MSN search makes the grade. But that's a catch-up play... copying Google, which is no way to play offense.

    The bottom line is that Microsoft has to make their software idiot-proof. I know, I know, when you build more idiot-proof software, the world will catch up and build better idiots. But I think you get the flavor.

    When we tune a SQL Server installation, it shouldn't require a week and a gaggle of Avanade consultants. When we configure SharePoint, it should be so dead-nuts simple that a business analyst can handle it... easily. When we want to share an Excel spreadsheet over the web, it shouldn't require six different technologies and a project plan.

    These are simple concepts. Useful concepts. Concepts that translate to real dollars for organizations spending major moolah on IT. And it's a place that Microsoft had better start innovating... before Google takes a serious look at corporate IT.

    Fortune: Search and Destroy - Bill Gates is on a mission to build a Google killer

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