Mistakes in Wall Street Journal editorial

You don't read PC magazine for mutual fund advice and you shouldn't read the Wall Street Journal for computer advice.

Today, July 10th, the web site of The Wall Street Journal is free, sponsored by Dell. Normally the vast majority of the site is available only to paying customers - of either the web site or the hard copy paper.

I mention this to draw attention to an editorial that appeared in the paper on July 3, 2007 entitled Google v. Microsoft.

Background


Windows Vista includes desktop search functionality out of the box and Google offers a free desktop search application that anyone can download from their web site and install. Google complained to Microsoft's antitrust regulators at the Justice Department that there isn't a level playing field when it comes to competition for Vista desktop search applications.

Mistakes


The editorial says

"Web-based applications like desktop search are increasingly central to Google's business prospects...".

The "web-based" description is off base. Desktop search is a desktop application and is not based on the Web. Google's own desktop search application can be installed and run just fine on a computer with no connection to the Internet.

At first I thought this might be just a typo. But the mistakes continued. Quoting again:

"In the original Clinton Administration case against Microsoft, the company was deemed a monopoly because it made 100% of operating systems called Windows..."

Yikes. By that logic, Apple is a monopoly because it makes 100% of the operating systems called OS X. And IBM was a monopoly way back when it made each copy of OS/2. And strike three:

"It is easy for a business with a superior service to peel away the customers of everyone else. That's what accounts for the success of Google's basic Internet search in the first place."

Google never pulled away a single "customer" back in its early days. It converted users of other search engines, such as Alta Vista and Hotbot. I see two differences between "customers" and "users".

For one, users of other search engines never paid for the service. Also, they had very little invested in Alta Vista and the other search engines. That is, there was pretty much no learning curve involved when switching from one search engine to another.

This is very different from say, the competition between Windows and the Mac OS X operating system. Switching involves paying a non-trivial amount of money to get a copy of OS X and a large learning curve to get proficient using both the new operating system and new application programs required to do the same work that was previously done under Windows.

Whatever the advantages of OS X may be, the cost of switching is huge, both in financial terms and time. Switching operating systems could not be more different from switching search engines. To quote myself:

"You don't read PC magazine for mutual fund advice and you shouldn't read the Wall Street Journal for computer advice."

When I said this in the past I was often referring to Walter Mossberg who, in my opinion, has on multiple occasions offered bad computer advice. But this editorial was written by someone who doesn't understand computers at all. It is more off base than Mr. Mossberg ever was.

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About the author

    Michael Horowitz wrote his first computer program in 1973 and has been a computer nerd ever since. He spent more than 20 years working in an IBM mainframe (MVS) environment. He has worked in the research and development group of a large Wall Street financial company, and has been a technical writer for a mainframe software company.

    He teaches a large range of self-developed classes, the underlying theme being Defensive Computing. Michael is an independent computer consultant, working with small businesses and the self-employed. He can be heard weekly on The Personal Computer Show on WBAI.

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