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  • So Microsoft is the Good Guy Now?

    September 16th, 2010

    It comes as no surprise that, when the head of a computer company has been portrayed in a movie or TV show, he’s apt to resemble Bill Gates, a nerdy caricature with the tousled hair who engages in evil behavior on a computer to cause havoc. I rather suspect that, when the U.S. Department of Justice, and the European Union, went after Microsoft, loads of people were applauding.

    Certainly, the big bad Microsoft, the largest software company on the planet, had taken a dominant share of the PC operating system market and destroyed Netscape as a viable browser.

    But that was then and this is now.

    It’s fair to suggest that Microsoft got off easy. Paying fines and making some token concessions didn’t mean much. It’s not as if the company was split into two, a threat (or hope) that arose early, but was abandoned. Besides, the marketplace has decided that Microsoft is essentially irrelevant except in operating systems, office software and server software. The company’s efforts to break into the burgeoning mobile space, and pretty much all consumer-oriented ventures, other than gaming, failed to gain traction.

    These days, Microsoft appears to be standing still. The new search engine, Bing, has gained market share, but largely at the expense of Yahoo!, whose search is also powered by Bing. Talk about going nowhere fast. Google remains solidly entrenched with nearly two-thirds of the market, including two percent from AOL, which uses Google’s search technology.

    Apple seems to be getting on better with Microsoft nowadays. Bing recently became an option for Safari on the Mac, PC and iOS. Office for Mac 2011, which will be released next month, promises greater compatibility with the Windows version. Internet Explorer 9, now in beta, may actually be a decent browser with faster rendering speeds and better adherence to modern Web standards, at least according to early tests.

    These days, it appears that Apple and Google are fighting it out to be the tech villain of the 21st century, but I think Google will win.

    Yes, Apple gets lumps for building products with a closed, or relatively closed, ecosystem. Except for music and media players, however, Apple’s market share is far from dominant. Just recently, the restrictions for using third-party developer tools for iOS apps were loosened, and a set of standards was posted for the apps themselves. Sure, some developers might still consider them too restrictive, but at least you know where you stand before you waste development resources creating something that will never get past the front door.

    Even though Google’s Android OS is supposedly open, what is really happening is that the wireless carriers are exerting control over the products. There’s no guarantee that any two Android smartphones from different manufacturers, or purchased from different wireless companies, will have the exact interface or support the same features. That can certainly make it difficult for the enterprise to deliver proper management, unless they are quite restrictive over which models they choose to support.

    But the real problem with Google is that they are almost always in your face, and it’s not just Google’s number one search engine. Millions and millions of people use Gmail, or Google Apps. There is the mapping service, YouTube and loads of other offerings. In each case, you are surrendering some of your privacy for the “privilege” of using a free service. It may not seem like much, but when you add all of the features together, a little means a lot. Of course, you can purchase a premium version of Google Apps with the promise of greater security.

    Consider, however, that incident some months back, where vans dispatched by Google for street mapping purposes, were found to be collecting information from unprotected Wi-Fi networks. Don’t forget the Buzz social networking service that was activated with people from your contact list following you without your permission. Sure that bone-headed move was halted, but what about the people who were part of the initial automatic sign-up process? Yes, you can disable Buzz, but I’ve done that twice already. The first time, it was mysteriously enabled all over again, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

    Worse, why isn’t Google spending at least a few minutes looking for common sense reasons not to force you to surrender more of your privacy to them? Perhaps they’re too busy finding ways to boost the bottom line.

    In years past, many people boasted of having a Microsoft free system. The easiest way was to buy a Mac and stay clear of Office, Messenger, and the Microsoft search engine du jour. On the PC, there was always Linux, or perhaps an hacked installation of Mac OS X.

    When it comes to using free online services, it may take a little time and effort to find alternate mapping services, free email services and so on and so forth. But it is possible for you to live in an efficient online universe where you are seldom saddled with a Google product or service.

    If you don’t like what Apple does, don’t buy their product. Google is far more pervasive, but at the end of the day, you can ditch them as well.

    But they say you should be kind to your elders, which may be why you might also want to be a little more respectful of Microsoft these days.

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