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Can Google and Microsoft be trusted with the Web?

Google and Microsoft have a vested interest in closing off the Web. Will this change?

Neil McAllister in Washingtonpost.com suggests a difficult question: will Google and Microsoft own the web? It's a question stemming from Mozilla CEO John Lilly's concern that Google's entrance into the browser market has "complicated" its once-sweet relationship with open-source Firefox, and by Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz's concern that Google and Microsoft's rising power on the Web has made the browser "hostile territory" for Web application developers.

The new world is starting to look a lot like the old world.

I suggested the other day that Google is beginning to look at a lot more like Microsoft, but that its commitment to openness may trump its desire to control.

Reading McAllister's post, and re-reading mine, I'm not so sure I was right.

The history of computing has generally moved from open to closed. Software was initially open until vendors saw profit in it, then they closed it off. The Web was born in open protocols, but as profit exists in proprietary hooks and overlays (like Google), we'll probably find ways to close it off, too. Indeed, Google's request for a fast-lane for its bits on the Web is probably just the first big step in that direction.

Can the Web remain free? I hope so, but history is not in its favor. It will only be if greater profits exist in openness than in proprietary that it has a chance. Perhaps Google believes this. It certainly says that it believes this. But the proof will be in its behavior over the next few years.