I originally wrote this post back in 2007. Certain links have been updated so that they point to the Internet Archive.
For decades now, technology pundits everywhere — some, no doubt, with their arms open — have predicted the demise of Microsoft. Yet, despite a plethora of apocalyptic predictions and near misses, it would appear as though the Redmond-based software giant does have a remarkable ability to survive. The company has, after all, endured the browser wars, the dot-com bubble, numerous security blunders, and even the United States Department of Justice.
But it’s no secret that the Web has changed, and is perhaps finally emerging as a viable enterprise development platform. Now many industry experts are asking another inevitable question: Will Microsoft survive Google?
Extinguishing Embrace and Extend
It isn’t unusual for Microsoft to buy a formidable competitor outright. One infamous example of this particular strategy occurred in 1995, when Microsoft attempted to purchase Intuit for $2 billion. The acquisition was ultimately blocked by the antitrust division of the Department of Justice.
Of course, Google would not be an easy acquisition for Microsoft. In late 2005, the BBC reported that Google was the world’s largest media company, surpassing even Disney, Time Warner, and Viacom. The search engine giant was valued at about $80 billion, although many analysts were careful to remind the public of lessons learned from the dot-com bubble. Despite those concerns, however, Google has grown to compete directly with Microsoft. At the moment, both companies are rumored to be expressing great interest in venerable Web advertising firm DoubleClick.
On the other hand, Microsoft remains a profitable, well-diversified Goliath. In 2006, Google’s $3.077 bn net income was paltry compared to Microsoft’s gargantuan take of $12.6 bn. Despite that, a keen reader will be quick to point out that Microsoft’s overall growth has been nowhere near as exponential. And, from that perspective, Google is becoming more of a threat every time the closing bell rings.
The Empire Strikes Back
While it’s possible that Microsoft could suffer in the future, their Windows operating system is still a dominant force in the world of technology. Products listed under the Windows brand, in their various incarnations, power everything from office computers to the ATM at your favorite bank. Even Microsoft’s own popular gaming console, the Xbox 360, depends on a specialized version of Windows.
Although better (i.e., more functionally complete) operating systems — Linux, Mac OS X, and even VxWorks, to name a few — do compete with Windows in their respective fields, none have been marketed as successfully across such a wide range of applications. In addition, one might argue that only Apple has a marketing team comparable to that of Microsoft.
And, as far as marketing is concerned, Microsoft is nothing less than an industry genius. While many have criticized them for repeatedly marketing what is essentially the same product, Microsoft has made another, more crucial accomplishment. With their controversial OEM contracts, Microsoft has kept Windows — and, by extension, their peripheral software — on the forefront. It is rare to see a consumer-grade personal computer with a preloaded operating system that isn’t Windows, although Dell recently recommitted to their support of Linux.
As long as Windows remains one of the dominant preloaded operating systems, Microsoft will hold a massive piece of the puzzle in their hands. They know that their company can extinguish the competition by simply bundling roughly equivalent products with Windows, which is precisely how they slaughtered Netscape in just a couple of short years. One might argue that Microsoft is repeating that strategy with their integration of Windows Live, a Web-based product that is nothing less than a direct affront to Google.
An Ace in the Window(s)
When it is compared to other desktop operating systems, Microsoft Windows still tends to enjoy the most commercial third-party support. Most desktop applications, whether they are games or productivity software, are available for Windows.
The same can’t be said for Linux, which lacks vendor support for software like Adobe Photoshop, as well as the ubiquitous Microsoft Office suite. And, while Mac OS X is a highly viable desktop contender, earlier releases somehow earned it an undeserved reputation that still leads many to think otherwise. Additionally, the high cost of professional-grade Apple hardware tends to make most budget-conscious decision makers wince.
Even if Google were to release a groundbreaking new operating system, complete with free Web-based equivalents to every Microsoft product, they would still be faced with a number of overwhelming problems. Most users, whether they are businesses or individuals, have standardized on Microsoft products, and they would need time to even consider a migration.
Further, Google would need to overcome the OEM contracts that have sustained Windows, and still manage to turn a healthy profit. They would need to refine development and support strategies that Microsoft has already spent years perfecting, while still maintaining their PR-friendly “Don’t Be Evil” reputation. In other words, Microsoft would have a massive home field advantage.
In summary, while the reality of the situation may be difficult for some to accept, it’s clear that Microsoft isn’t going anywhere in the near future. The empire of Bill Gates, while controversial, was definitely built to last.
Featured Image Credit: “Google Mountain View campus dinosaur skeleton ‘Stan’” by Ashstar01 – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.