Every week I take questions from the community and do my best to answer them – typically in a long-form podcast. This week, I'm trying something slightly different. I'll be addressing each question in written form (and in individual podcast episodes) to make them a bit easier to search through… and allow me a bit more time to think through the answers.

The first question this week comes from Jac, who writes:

“Is Google the new Microsoft and Microsoft the new Google?" - Jac

This is a surprisingly deep question – the short answer is… yes. And No. It's really a mixed bag.

Let's take this one piece at a time.

Is Google the new Microsoft?

To me, the core question here focuses on how Microsoft has, historically, done business. How they have approached their own product development, how they have treated their customers, and how they have handled their competition.

Specifically:

  • Microsoft is well known for their anti-competitive practicies. For using their position of market dominance, combined with artificial limitations on their software, to maintain their monopoly on the market.

Full disclosure: I worked at Microsoft during the famous deposition of Bill Gates at the end of the 90's. This was a wild time at Microsoft.

  • Microsoft is also well known for their agressive legal action against competitors that they felt infringed on their patents in some way. See Microsoft v. Tom Tom.

  • And, lastly, Microsoft has always liked to charge customers for upgrades. For example: The Windows 3.0 to 3.1 upgrade sold for $79. Roughly $145, adjusted for inflation. And that's just for a point upgrade (albeit a really big one). That wasn't an unusual approach for Microsoft (or, really, for most major software vendors at the time).

Now, let's look at the Google of today.

They certainly have taken the crown of “Using their market position to force competitors out” from Microsoft. Even going far beyond what Microsoft ever dreamed of.

Microsoft was sued, by the US Government, in part because of bundling Internet Explorer with Windows (and making it hard to uninstall) – thus creating an artificially difficult environment for competing web browsers.

Google, on the other hand, created an entire Operating System (Chrome OS) that (until very recently) was so locked down that you could only run one web browser on it at all… Google's Chrome. (Unless, of course, you are nerdy enough to know how to work around that issue… something which very few average consumers were capable of… even if they knew it was possible.) This is all despite the fact that the underlying Operating System was actually Gentoo Linux – meaning Google had to work, rather hard, to keep people from installing competing software.

Microsoft was sued for having a platform that was easy to install competing browsers on… but hard to remove Internet Explorer. Google made it nearly impossible to even install a competing browser.

I'm sure Microsoft of the 1990s wishes they could have gotten away with something like that.

And that doesn't even get into the antitrust issues that Google has faced in the European Union – where they have been fined over 8 billion Euros.

In this way, not only is “Google the new Microsoft” … they are far, far worse.

However, when looking at the litigious nature of Microsoft compared to Google… the results are somewhat… reversed.

While Microsoft has, historically, been extremely agressive against those it felt stepped on their patents (such as exFAT, in the case of Tom-Tom)… Google has tended to mostly be the defendant of lawsuits from others. Not entirely, mind you, but it's a noteworthy difference.

Google has been hit with significant, high profile lawsuits ranging from discrimination to patent infringement to privacy violations. Not to mention the antitrust issues we mentioned earlier.

Part of me wants to give Google points for not being quite as litigious as Microsoft was during the 90s and early 2000s… but, at the same time, many of the lawsuits against Google are ones that don't seem overly frivilous. So, at best, I'm simply a bit torn and not overly thrilled with either company.

Which brings us to the “Microsoft likes to charge for updates” issue. This one is a bit more tricky.

On the one hand… Google tends to “give away” software updates for some of its systems free of charge (see: ChromeOS).

On the other hand… you could (rather easily) argue that Google monetizes these systems quite agressively through data mining and advertising. Google is, after all, an advertising company at heart (that's where the vast majority of their revenue comes from). Thus, that makes every upgrade they issue… in essence… a paid upgrade. We, as the consumer, simply pay for it in a different way.

And, on the other hand once again (we've got three hands in this scenario), Google also makes a point of end-of-life-ing hardware rather quickly. Specifically, I'm looking at Android devices losing access to updates after, typically, only a few yars. If the Microsoft of the 1990s had said “if you want to install Microsoft software, you'll need to buy a whole new computer every 2 to 3 years” they would have been mocked, laughed at, and (ultimately) probably sued. Yet Google does that with high regularity.

Again. The “charge for updates” thing is tricky here. But I would argue that Google is far more agressive in their monetization of software updates than Microsoft of the 80's, 90's or even today.

All of that put together… is “Google the new Microsoft”?

Yes. Times ten.

Ok, maybe that's an exageration. Google is, in the ways we have historically complained about Microsoft, merely 6 or 7 times worse.

But that brings us to the second part of this question. A part that I find far easier to answer in a direct way…

“Is Microsoft the new Google?"

The answer is no. Definitely not.

Google has been, and remains, an advertising and data collection company. Microsoft is not. They make and sell software (mostly – plus some services).

Google derives much revenue from their search engine.

Microsoft… not so much. (Bing!)

Google, who once used the phrase “Don't be evil”, has made a point of removing every trace of that phrase from their corporate literature.

Microsoft, on the other hand, has a long history of being anti-competitive towards other companies (and Open Source). Yet, in recent times, they've made overtures of, at least somewhat, changing that anti-competitive nature to something a bit more positive. Statements like “Microsoft loves Open Source” and working with others to provide patent protections… while these actions have been met with (appropriate, in my mind) skepticism… they are at least postive overtures.

As opposed to Google… who literally gave up on the “Don't be evil” mantra in a very public way. They, clearly, wanted to make sure the public saw that they gave up on it. They wanted us to know. They don't believe in that anymore.

So… no. Microsoft is not the new Google.

Truth be told, I don't know what Microsoft is nowadays. In many ways they don't really resemble the Microsoft I knew when I worked there nearly two decades ago. Yet, in other ways, they do. I remain somewhat skeptical.

But, despite my skepticism, I must admit that Microsoft at least has the possibility of trending in a far more open, positive way than Google currently is. While Microsoft has much to atone for (in my mind) and change (business practice wise) – they have, at the very least, begun that process. Google is driving, rapidly, in the other direction.

In short:

Is Google the new Microsoft: Yes. Times 10

Is Microsoft the new Google: Nope. Not even a little.

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