Web mulls Google's threat to Microsoft

Discussion grows over whether the Web will become the next computing platform, and whether Microsoft can compete if it does.

Jennifer Guevin Former Managing Editor / Reviews
Jennifer Guevin was a managing editor at CNET, overseeing the ever-helpful How To section, special packages and front-page programming. As a writer, she gravitated toward science, quirky geek culture stories, robots and food. In real life, she mostly just gravitates toward food.
Jennifer Guevin
4 min read
Debate is growing over whether Google poses a viable threat to Microsoft's dominance of the personal-computing sector.

Web logs and discussion forums lit up over the weekend with talk of how computing may evolve in the near future, and whether a shift toward using the Web as a primary computing platform could leave companies like Microsoft to go the way of the dinosaur.

The possibility of such a drastic transformation is nothing new to the software giant: Memos dating as far back as 1995 reveal company executives' concern that the Web could become the next platform and that if Microsoft didn't push innovation on that front, it could lose its hold on market. Now, with Google's umbrella of services widening, some industry watchers have begun to wonder whether that day is on the horizon.

Many who have joined the discussion say the time is right for such a shift--that the Web has matured enough to take a more prominent role in application development. But others see the lack of broadband adoption on a global scale as an obstacle that will keep such a change at bay for years to come.

Even those who feel current Web technology is advanced enough for it to become a viable platform disagree about who is better fit to bring it to the mainstream.

Google is widely viewed as a young, innovative company whose primary focus is the kind of Web services that would lead the personal-computing platform online. And to be sure, in the blogosphere, there is no shortage of the sentiment that Microsoft is a company whose prime time has long passed.

But many feel that Microsoft is more nimble than it gets credit for being. They believe that the company not only sees the challenge that lies before it, but also has the business savvy, development skills and--maybe most important--the money to forge ahead with a new strategy.

The word from the Web...
• Over the past 10 years, the Web system has certainly rigidified. To the point that in 2005, Microsoft sees Google, the bigco most likely to roll out a WebMachine, as the major threat it's feared all along. In response, Microsoft is integrating MSN into its platform product development group, where Windows is developed. It's too early to know how this will play out, but one thing's for sure--the Web is on an equal footing with Windows for Microsoft now. It took them 10 years to fulfill the destiny that one of their smart engineers, Ben Slivka, mapped out for them in May 1995. But will it be enough to stop the WebMachine?
--Read/Write Web

• You really think that people will go for paying monthly fees to perform computing tasks? You really think that people will want their software and data stored elsewhere and they have to pay to get at it? Thin clients are hype with no substance and lacking any technology that could even remotely make it reality in the next few years.

• Microsoft would *love* to host Web-based application services (i.e. Office). It would enable them even greater control over the end users and piracy, and (end) a lot of media creation and distribution costs.
--Garcia on Slashdot

• Competitors come and go. Apple is making a resurgance, Oracle is holding its own, Google is the new upstart, and I haven't seen an article about Sun in years. Is Google any more of a threat to Microsoft than any of the others? Probably not...and I forgot to mention AOL. At their peak, they had more cash and more market penetration than Google does now.
--David Workman

• Ahh, yes, Microsoft is done for. Google owns the world. Apple is designing the world. You believe that? Hey, aren't you the same guy who said that Apple would go out of business in 1989?

• While a lot of focus on how Microsoft will step up to the Internet-as-platform competitive threat has focused on MSN, let's not forget MSDN. The Microsoft Developers Network should be a major resource through which Microsoft binds developers and ISVs to its revamped services development and deployment strategy. But for now, the MSDN portal is rich in downloads--from code to white papers to how-tos (i.e. "Create an RSS feed")--but skimpy if not downright devoid of software-as-a-service support.
--ZDNet's Between the Lines

• Maybe they are on a collision course, but the scenario, you need to see fleshed out a bit, to believe it would have to specify what is going to happen to revenues. If you're MS planners, you're looking first at OS revenues, which are closely tied to PC shipments. Now, do you believe that Google is going to affect the number of PCs shipped, or how many of them ship with Windows, or the price of those Windows shipments? If so, exactly how is it going to, and by how much, and when? Then there's the applications, of which far and away the biggest is Office. Again, do we believe that Office is going to ship less or at lower prices because of Google? In the abscence of a specific scenario, this may just be hysteria.
--anonymous comment on OSNews.com

• Digging in on the PC platform was a winning strategy and still is, at this point, but the rules will be changing sooner rather than later. When they do, will Microsoft be able to overcome its own inertia and innovate fast enough to stay in the game? Probably not, but the good news for Microsoft is that it doesn't have to...it just has to acquire a company that can.
--TripMaster Monkey on Slashdot