There is no love lost between Google and Microsoft. The antipathy of Google’s founders toward the Colossus of Redmond is embedded in the very identity of their young company. Google is, by design, the anti-Microsoft; the company’s rallying cry – “don’t be evil” – is aimed implicitly at its northern neighbor. It’s fair to assume that Google would enjoy nothing more than toppling the house that Gates built.
But business, like politics, makes strange bedfellows, and the relationship between Google and Microsoft is beginning to look as symbiotic as it is competitive. Today’s introduction of the cumbersomely named Google Apps for Your Domain, an expansion of the private domain Gmail service announced last February, would seem on the face of it to be the beginning of a frontal attack on Microsoft’s Office franchise. But the combination of calendar, email and web publishing applications is actually being positioned as a complement to Office, just as Google Spreadsheets was introduced as a complement to Excel. “The right way to view Writely and Google Spreadsheets, especially in the context of a larger business, isn’t necessarily as a replacement for Word or Excel,” a Google executive told Information Week. “They’re the collaboration component of that.” Speaking specifically of Google Apps for Your Domain, Dave Girouard, who heads Google’s enterprise unit, underscored to Reuters “that the Google Apps platform is not designed to replace Microsoft’s core software … ‘We are not really out there to eliminate any applications. We are looking to introduce new ways to solve problems people have been having for years.'”
Even granting the disingenuousness of such comments, they contain a great deal of truth. Google has, wisely, designed its products to extend the capabilities of Microsoft software rather than replace that software. Google may wish, for instance, that Microsoft file formats didn’t dominate the business desktop, but it’s willing to exist in a world defined by Microsoft products. Google is competing with Microsoft’s nascent Live services more than it’s competing with Microsoft’s existing office suite.
The competition will raise challenges for both companies, posing a particular threat to Microsoft’s traditional and very lucrative software-pricing structure. But the biggest threat is to neither Google nor Microsoft but to every other company hoping to get a foothold in the broad market for personal productivity applications. The combined might of the two companies, with their vast user bases and their billions of dollars in annual investments in infrastructure, should put a chill, and probably a fatal one, into any other company looking to enter this market. Entrepreneurs and their investors, in particular, will not be eager to battle the de facto Google-Microsoft axis.
Right now, it appears that the long-time monopoly in office applications may not be dismantled but rather replaced by a duopoly, and that the expected wave of innovation in web-based productivity applications may die long before it reaches shore.