Monday, April 23, 2012

Heating and Googlighting

 So, it seems as if Microsoft has taken a lesson from all of the negative political advertising that we've been subjected to as part of the Republican primary campaign over the past year.  We don't usually see commercial interests go on the attack in the same way as political candidates in this great democracy of ours, but take a look at this video by Microsoft that provides a humorous but pointed assault on Google's cloud services, notably Google Docs:

Ironically, perhaps, this Googlighting video appears on Google's own YouTube website (heck, Plato's criticisms of writing were put into writing in the Phaedrus). No doubt, Google's not happy about it, but they are set up as a neutral carrier, censoring only for reasons of decency and copyright.  Their little write-up there goes like this:

What happens when the world's largest advertising business tries to sell productivity software on the side? Beware the Googlighting Stranger. Learn more at

 If you follow the link, it will take you to a somewhat more rational comparison of services.  But it's the attack ad that really fascinates me, and while some might liken it to the famous Apple advertising campaign ("Hi. I'm a Mac. And I'm a PC"), Microsoft's new approach lacks the humor of the Mac ads, or the Davy vs. Goliath appeal that they had.  After all, Mac had less than 10% of the home computer market in comparison to PC computers, whereas Microsoft dominates the market for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation software (i.e., PowerPoint), and is just trying to crush Google's upstart alternative.  And it's the downright nastiness of the ad that amazes me.

Looking into the matter further, I came across this video from Newsy Tech about another attack Microsoft launched against Google earlier this year:

Certainly, full page newspaper ads, like their webpage on productivity applications cited above, require more of a reasoned approach than videos, a point that reinforces the arguments made by Neil Postman in Amusing Ourselves to Death back in 1985.

But reasoned or no, it seems that Microsoft has been asserting itself after what seemed to be a prolonged period of resting on it laurels.  Whether or not it would be accurate to refer to Microsoft in recent years as a slumbering giant, it is certainly true that Apple and Google have been producing one innovation after another, while Microsoft has largely been doing the same old thing year after year.  And sticking with the status quo is an almost certain way to get left behind in the new media world. Just ask IBM about the IBM PC, or AOL about dial-up, or MySpace about social networking.

That's not to discount Microsoft's entry into the search engine market with Bing. Maybe you remember the days when there actually was a choice of search engines?  I mean a serious choice.  When you would choose among such options as Yahoo, Lycos, WebCrawler, AltaVista, etc.?  Before Google wiped them all out with its amazing algorithms. So, maybe Bing has made a little ting in Google's near-monopoly. Maybe. Funny how we don't see Google sweating it, and ridiculing Microsoft's attempt to grab a piece of the search engine action.

And Microsoft has also moved into the mobile market with its Windows Phone software.  Now this represents much more of a threat to Google, who has had the run of the playing field for alternatives to the Macintosh iPhone, with Google's Android operating system.  It pretty much looked like Android was positioning itself as the MS-DOS/Windows-type system for mobile devices, with an operating system that, while of lesser quality that Mac's, could be used across all of the different hardware platforms.  In the mobile arena, Mac has been pursuing the same strategy as it had for computers, creating exclusive combinations of software and hardware as high-end products, maintaining quality over quantity.  Their major departure from this strategy was iTunes, software that works on PCs as well as Macs, which is what turned the company around (hard to believe they almost went under at one point), but of course this was only a partial departure, as iTunes only works with Mac mobile devices, e.g., iPods and iPhones.

So, it's Android vs. Windows Phone in a war of mobile operating systems.  And I think it worth noting that Android is based on Linux, the third major operating system for personal computers, after Windows and Macs.  And while Linux has gained significantly in popularity as a free, open source alternative to Windows since the introduction of the Ubuntu version in 2004, their share of the market is not significant (around 1%).  Android, then, is by far the most successful version of Linux in existence, but can it survive a concerted effort on the part of Microsoft, the company that has dominated personal computer operating systems ever since poor, shortsighted IBM asked Bill Gates to write a Disk Operating System for the microcomputers they were introducing in the early 80s?

Or will Android wind up being deactivated? Or retired, to use the old Blade Runner euphemism.

And perhaps you've noticed the new commercials on TV for Microsoft's web browser, Internet Explorer?

 You can read and see more about it on their website:  Since IE9 is only for Windows, I can't give you any firsthand feedback on it, but I really have to wonder, why is this browser different from any other browser? I suspect there are few if any differences that make a difference, except for the fact that all of our web browsers are now working towards the convergence of personal computers and mobile devices.

Now, you may remember a time back in the 90s when Netscape was the browser of choice. This was back in the early days of the Web.  And as I recall, Netscape was starting to talk about how all you really need is a browser, that a browser is, in fact, an operating system.  After all, what we're talking about are interfaces to computer hardware.  Back in those early days, Netscape was pointing to future possibilities, but no doubt Microsoft took notice, as operating systems (i.e., MS-DOS and Windows) are the foundation of its business.

So Microsoft integrated its Internet Explorer browser into its Windows operating system, making it the only accessible alternative, and this pushed Netscape aside so that Internet Explorer became the dominant browser.  Microsoft became the subject of an antitrust suit filed by the US government (see Wikipedia's entry on United States v. Microsoft), which Microsoft lost, so that it was declared a monopoly; Microsoft appealed, and finally reached a settlement with the Department of Justice in which their operating system would allow a choice of browsers.

But the damage had been done. Netscape never recovered.  Even Mac users were forced to turn to Internet Explorer because Mac's Safari browser sometimes did not agree with websites designed with Internet Explorer in mind.  And this is where Microsoft went soft, as Mozilla, a non-profit, developed the Firefox browser, which was able to achieve the same functionality as Internet Explorer, and eventually improve on Microsoft's browser in regard to its efficiency and its features.  Introduced in 2004, within a few years, Firefox seemed to be well on its way to displacing Internet Explorer as the browser of choice.

Mozilla received significant supported from Google, which is why the Firefox homepage featured a modified version of the Google homepage, at least up until recently.  Google released its own browser, Chrome, in 2008, developed by several programmers they hired away from Mozilla, but Google was relatively low key in promoting Chrome until the past year or so.  By the end of last year, Chrome had overtaken Firefox as Internet Explorer's main competition, and I believe that in about a year or so Firefox will be all but forgotten.

Chrome for Android was released this year as well.  But what is really key, I believe, is that Chrome has also been developed as an operating system, making good on Netscape's original vision.  It is a very limited operating system, to be sure, one that essentially only works with online apps, such as Google Docs.  But this does mean that the devices running the Chrome operating system require much less start-up time, and much less memory, not just for applications, but also for storage of files, as both can be accessed online, that is, stored in the cloud.  Of course, you have to have WiFi or a wireless data connection to make it all work.  To date, the Chrome operating system has only been used on a limited number of laptop/netbook type of devices, dubbed Chromebooks.

When I checked the Wikipedia entry on Chromebooks, I found the following statement:  "Some analysts viewed Google's web-centric operating system packaged with hardware as a direct attack on the market dominance of Microsoft." Um, yeah, you got it!  No wonder, then, that Microsoft is hitting back, and hitting back hard against Google.  If people start to accept and get comfortable with Google applications, especially the productivity software bundled under Google Docs, this would not only threaten Microsoft's near monopoly over those programs, but its dominance over the operating systems that represent Microsoft's very lifeblood (vampire that it is!).

So, it's Windows vs. Chrome, as well as Windows Phone vs. Android.  In other words, it's Microsoft vs. Google.  And what if Facebook comes to the aid of Microsoft, having also been threatened by Google's efforts, in launching Google+ as an alternative social network?  And what if Amazon makes good, belatedly, on the Epic predictions of a union with Google?  Would Apple remain neutral, or take one side or another?

Albert Einstein famously said, "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."  But maybe the Third World War won't be a nuclear holocaust, or even a conventional land war, but a conflict in cyberspace, a series of new media battles fought with bits and bytes, memes and viruses, networks and programs.  Cry havoc, and let slip the apps of war!  Call it what you will, cybergeddon, or e-pocalypse now, I do think we're in for some interesting times.

1 comment:

Si Philbrook said...

You never cease to make me think