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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8 Responses to “So Microsoft is the Good Guy Now?”

  1. dfs says:

    I may have said something like this before, but it bears repeating. All MS has ever wanted is my money. Well, okay, in the context of a capitalist society I’m plenty used to that. Google seems to want to invade my privacy, or maybe a better way of putting it is that they want to get away with imposing their own definition of the boundaries of the personal privacy of all of us. In my book, that’s a whole lot worse. I use their search engine, but that’s as far as I will go with them. I’m even scared to use their browser because I can’t be sure that it’s not “phoning home“ with information about individual users. And I sure won’t entrust my data to their browser. And, by the way, I have at least one book published where they make lengthy extracts available on Google Books, way more than normal “fair use“ quotations permitted by copyright law. Maybe they and my publisher cut some kind of deal behind my back, but nobody ever bothered to consult me about it. So here’s one very concrete way, at least, in which Google seems to have violated my personal rights. And I can’t help suspecting there may be more.

  2. Lazer Wolfe says:

    Timely thoughts. I am wondering if we will ever get a thorough investigative journalism piece into how exactly Google is collecting and profiting from our “private data”. I am really hoping someone will take the kid’s gloves off and just let the public know exactly what personal information Google has on an individual, how they use it and what guaranteed protections we have against private parties or the government for acquiring this information. I think these are important questions and getting accurate answers will help each individual make a choice about whether or not to use the Google product. But I will add that they are making it hard not to use their product: search, browser, OS, Google Public DNS etc. That’s a serious web they weave.

    A final thought on your discussion today on Microsoft vs. Google, maybe you could have gone with the title, “The devil you know….”


    Thanks Gene.

  3. Steve says:

    As the saying goes… “the enemy of your enemy is your friend”. Right now, Google has positioned itself to be more of an enemy / threat to Apple’s dominance than Microsoft. Google is simply playing the spoiler with Android as they get no direct revenue from Android.

  4. David says:

    While others have used gmail for years and are migrating to Google Docs I have resisted. I don’t trust an advertising company (which is how Google makes its money) to manage my personal documents and correspondence. I have always used their search engine though so they probably already know more about me than I would like.

    I pay for MobileMe because it contains no ads and because Apple makes most of its money from hardware so I feel they have far less incentive to search all my email for particular keywords. I also use my work and home ISP provided email accounts far more than my identity. To me MobileMe’s value is mostly synchronization of calendars and contacts across all my devices, iDisk and the easy to use Back to My Mac.

    I have Windows available at home thanks to VirtualBox, but only because my wife is looking for a job and needs to be familiar with Office for Windows. At work we use Office 2008 for Mac, but I haven’t bothered to upgrade from 2004 at home. I find that TextEdit is good enough for most of my own documents. If I want to make something with a nice layout I’ll use Pages. Actually I miss PageMaker. It offered just enough “pro” features like master pages, guides and kerning while remaining easy to use. The only thing I truly hated about it was the archaic way you edited text.

  5. Andrew says:

    I stopped hating Microsoft a long time ago (1999, actually). Windows 2000 marked the first time when Microsoft’s OS was good enough for me, and far better than any version higher than 7.1 of the “classic” Mac OS. I’ve always been an MS Word user, and I don’t find the program particularly elegant or pleasant on either Mac or Windows platform, I know my way around it and generally get my work done in either version with little fuss.

    These days, I eagerly await each new release of Office (both Windows and Mac) and Windows just as excitedly as a new release of OS X. I happen to like Snow Leopard better than Windows 7, but it is a very close call.

    So I guess I agree with you, only was a little sooner in my acceptance of Redmond. Google scares me, which being a Verizon user leaves me very little choice when I pick smartphones (currently using BlackBerry Storm2). I very much want to avoid Android, and definitely will NOT be giving ChromeOS a spin. For browsers, I use Safari exclusively on Mac, and go between Safari and IE8 in Windows. IE used to be horrible, but today I see very little difference in any browser, with all of them offering tabs (the greatest invention ever) and rendering at a high enough speed to not be annoying. I’ve also moved my search default from Google to Bing, and notice little to no difference.

  6. SteveP says:

    Hey, Mister! Your barn door’s open and your cow’s hanging out!
    Probably too late to put the cow back. Our data’s all out there. And Google is just one of many gatherers.

    I think the bigger question – not to wax political! – is why there is no significant regulation. Why don’t our “Senators and Congressmen please heed the call.” ?

    It wouldn’t take much to say that unless a clearly defined and written opt-in (NOT the usual opt-out!) is approved for specific data then that data cannot be collected and used and that data collected by one entity cannot be sold or given to another without express approval. Then assign substantial fines and or criminal violation to companies that violate the regulation.
    It would be simple, straightforward and avoid all the Google and Facebook labyrinthine and undecipherable processes.


  7. Chark says:

    Google is being sued by Oracle for blatantly copying Sun’s Java without licensing it. Oracle doesn’t want money from Google, they want to confiscate and destroy all Android code. Many experts think Oracle has a very strong case. Google does not have a Plan B. I would not bet on Android winning against iOS.

    Apple has a unique place in the tech world where they don’t have to have the huge market share that the others do. They dominate in profitability in the markets they are in – premium laptops and desktops, music players, smart phones, etc. This drives research and innovation. Everyone else is copying Apple and struggling to have a me-too product that they never would have created without Apple.

    Microsoft has done nothing on their own. They poo-pooed the iPod, iPhone and now the iPad. Their attempts to copy Apple have been years behind. Zune, Zune HD, Kin, WinMob 6, WinMob 6.5 and soon-to-be Win Phone 7 have not and will not hurt Apple in the slightest. Win Phone 7 is not coming to Verizon in 2010 at all and “may” come in 2011. That came straight from Verizon and is terrible news for MS.

    I just don’t see anyone doing anything at all to dethrone Apple. While everyone else is playing catchup, Apple is already finalizing the next versions and planning the versions beyond that. “Competition” is good in pushing development forward, but the competition is not good enough.

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