A decade or so ago Microsoft bundled their Internet Explorer browser in with Windows, and set their browser search button to direct you by default to their MSN search engine. It looked simple: a monopoly on desktop software would give Microsoft a browser monopoly which would lead to a search monopoly.
We all know it didn't work out that way and now the process could go into reverse. Google launched their browser last week: Google Chrome. They can be confident that millions will try it: they have put a 'Download Chrome- the new browser from Google' link right underneath the search button on their home page. By being everyone's search engine they can bring to everyone's attention any new service they develop or acquire.
The classic Google home page has steadily turned itself into a portal. From it you can reach and use the portfolio of services that Google have acquired, which together will meet most people's information storage, publishing and retrieval needs. The portfolio includes:
- Google docs to create, store and collaborate on your documents
- Blogger to host your blog
- Picassa to store your photos
- You tube to store your videos
- Gmail for your e-mail
- Google reader for you RSS feeds
- Google groups to set up a collaborative spaces.
And you can set up i-Google to access your accounts for all of these applications with one log in.
Google are pretty soon going to be providing you, free of charge, with as complete a set of tools as your organisation provides you with. The difference is that your Google accounts are all under your own name and control, so that if you and your organisation ever decided to part company with one another all the stuff you had used if for would still be available to you, in your name.
And I can't see many organisation blocking their staff's access to Google!
If you like future watching read this excellent post, put up today by the Google watchers 'Google blogoscoped'. They are looking back from the vantage point of the year 2018, when Google has been toppled from its dominant position on the web. Three of the causes they speculatively put forward for Google's loss of dominance are:
- the development of an alternative basis for generating search results to Google's algorithm
- revelations of just how often the US Government were using their powers under the US Patriot Act to tap into Google's databases for information on what we are all up to
- the success of monopoly procedings against Google for integrating different applications (Google docs and Gmail for example) too tightly into each other and into search.
Google and Microsoft both realise that the basis for their monopoly positions over search and organisational computing respectively are both temporary. Let us now think through what both companies need to do to hold onto their power and influence after the Google algorithm has been bettered or sidelined and after organisations have decided they don't want to maintain shed-loads of servers with Microsoft's software loaded on them.
Google has got a window of opportunity, lasting as long as their dominance of search lasts. Before that window closes they will need to convince us as individuals to use their suite of applications to run our lives, and to convince our organisations to sign up for an organisational version of the same suite of applications (Google apps). The second challenge is harder for them than the first: Google apps is cheaper than SharePoint and easier for organisations to install and manage but at the moment is nowhere near as powerful.
Microsoft has got a similar window, lasting as long as organisations are willing to host their own software on their own servers. They need to use that window to get SharePoint:
- routinely implemented by organisations as the enterprise search window into all their legacy line-of-business aplications
- routinely used by organisations as the platform within which they develop any new line-of-business applications
- as web 2.0 friendly as possible, by improving the quality of the blogs, wikis, feeds, tagging and social networking features it provides on SharePoint, and by providing an ability to mash these in with the external web 2.0 applications that that staff use on their own account
Lastly, and most crucially, Microsoft needs to find a robust and convincing way of providing SharePoint to organisations over the web cloud.
My guess is that the clock is running down on Microsoft quicker than on Google: organisations will want to transfer the hosting of their computing to the web cloud (once security, reliability and ownership issues are adressed) sooner than Google will lose their search dominance.