Since vacation last week I’ve been on the road constantly, and unable to find much time to write. But this NYT Op Ed, by Robert Cringely, caught my eye, as it addresses something I’ve been watching closely for some time – the competition between Microsoft and Google. Clearly the two giants are circling each other’s core revenue streams – Google announced a vapor competitor to Windows last week, and Bing is Microsoft’s answer to Google search. (Disclosure: Both companies have sponsored this site in the past, and Bing is sponsoring it now (see BingTweets), and both companies work with FM, my business). (image credit)
So it makes sense that there’d be a fair amount of speculation on what it all means. But Cringely’s take, validated as it was in the pages of the Times, struck me as worthy of thinking through. In it he argues:
This is all heady stuff and good for lots of press, but in the end none of this is likely to make a real difference for either company or, indeed, for consumers. It’s just noise — a form of mutually assured destruction intended to keep each company in check.
I don’t agree, to a point. I think it’s true that outside of core search and advertising platforms, Google tends to throw a lot of pasta at the wall, in the hopes that some of it will stick. But Google is dead serious about cloud computing, and I very much doubt they’ll abandon Chrome OS. And I’ve spent a fair amount of time with the team behind Bing, and I think Microsoft is equally serious about this effort.
What Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, has to fear more than anything else is that he’ll awake one day to learn that the Google search engine suddenly doesn’t work on any Windows computers: something happened overnight and what worked yesterday doesn’t work today. It would have to be an act of deliberate sabotage on Microsoft’s part and blatantly illegal, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.
The idea that Microsoft would do such a thing strikes me as patently ludicrous. Microsoft has learned its lesson with the DOJ, and it’s not going to run down that alley again. I am certain there are many other things about the company that keep Eric Schmidt up at night, but this is not one of them.
Cringely continues with what struck me as a very misinformed statement:
The engineering teams for any of these products are, at most, 20 to 30 people….Bing hasn’t a hope of toppling Google as the premier search engine and Microsoft knows it.
Wow! Did Microsoft really make Bing with a team of 20-30 folks?! And Microsoft is just doing Bing to keep Google on its toes?! I had to ask. Here’s Microsoft’s official response: “This is inaccurate. The Search and Advertising platform engineering team is in the thousands…(and) We are in the business to succeed long term.”
Now, success doesn’t have to be toppling Google, I think Microsoft would settle for gaining five to ten points of share this year, and continuing to show share gain over the next few years. The company posted some examples of early success earlier this week, and while Bing has its detractors, it’s clear the new engine has had a pretty successful initial launch. It remains to be seen if that momentum can continue, and if the concept of search as an application can scale.