Posted in technology by johnsnavely on December 3, 2009

Last night, I went to Ignite Seattle 8, an event which has people speak on various topics (mostly concentrating on design and technology– like a TED talk). The format is 20 slides at 15 seconds each, giving each person a five minute sound bite.

The presentations were hit and miss, with a couple good ones (Eugene Lin and Jeremy Bingham were very entertaining) and some not so hot.

One of the presenters was Peter Wilson, who gave a talk entitled: Google vs. Microsoft: An Insiders Guide.

Google vs. Microsoft: where will the battles be fought, how will each companies strategies and blind-spots impact the outcomes, and who will win? The speaker spent 9 years at Microsoft and 4 at Google, and so thinks he knows something about this…

There were some good points,overshadowed by his obvious zeal for Google. (The claim that Google was a “White Knight” in particular struck me as being a bit over the top.) He talked about the differences in the two companies strategies and culture: words which he used interchangeably, which I thought was interesting. I’ll try to summarize his presentation.

Google’s Strategy/Culture

Google is interested in getting as many people to spend as much time as they possibly can on the web. The more traffic there is on the web the more chances that you have of clicking on Google’s ads. This is includes search as well as all the “Beta” apps that google releases. (If you’re in Google Docs, then Google can feed you ads.) As such, Google has an interest in open source, because open source stuff gets more people online.

Microsoft’s Strategy/Culture

Microsoft is interested in creating and owning platforms and then licensing that technology, whether it’s the OS, browser, or even their platform in the cloud. To do this, they find partners to work with and keep most of their code closed source, as opposed to Google’s model of open-ness to all communities.


Cloud computing is the future. The Microsoft way of doing things is outdated and in order to do better they need to give up on the idea of platform and embrace open source models. Google is doing great and is probably going to win.

Five minutes to explain the differences in these companies might seem like 30 second bunny theater, but actually I think Peter Wilson brings up some great points and misses some big ones. Let’s start with a painful truth (for some): Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Adobe and Apple are much more alike than they are different. These large companies all share employees, finances, projects and ideas. The Google branch that Peter Wilson helped start was mainly staffed by ex-Microsoft employees (including Mr. Wilson) and much of the software they made were “Googlely” versions of Microsoft products.

Anyway, I think Wilson’s take on Google’s strategy is pretty accurate (with a couple, small exceptions). And yes, I think Microsoft’s way of turning everything into a “platform” is a little short sighted at times. But I’m not sure the strategy should be tossed out the window. If we took Peter Wilson’s speech and substituted “Apple” for “Microsoft” we’d have much the same argument, but probably a much chillier reception. Apple has a tightly controlled software and hardware platform, most notably in the iPhone, that’s absolutely crushing the competition… including Google’s web friendly, open-source phone. Apple closely partnered with AT&T to exclude the competition and now it finds itself the most profitable mobile company in the world.

Let’s look at facebook. Sure, on an iPhone I can open Safari and load up facebook. But everyone uses the app instead. The same for gmail. If that’s your primary mail client, and you’ve got an iPhone, you’re probably using the phone mail client (built on their proprietary platform) instead of gmail in the browser.

There are some big differences in the two companies. Most notably where their revenue comes from. And I suppose a discussion comparing them could go on and on. But my main interest is in where Peter Wilson thinks we’re going in the future. While I’m jonesing for a web based OS and Google does own the internet, I’m not sure the software I use right now fits well into that model.

I get the feeling that my attention/time is being broken into smaller and smaller pieces on the web; it’s very much the opposite of a seamless experience. I have another post on this feeling in particular, brewing in drafts…


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