Edgelings

Google Piles On Against Microsoft

GOOGLE PILES ON AGAINST MICROSOFT by Michael S. Malone

A decade ago, when I visited Europe to give a speech or attend a conference on high tech, the conversation inevitably came around to Microsoft — in particular, its growing hegemony in the world of personal computing.

Europeans typically like monopolies . . .but only if they aren’t American.  And so, Microsoft’s success was seen by Europeans as not just a business threat, but a cultural — even an existential — threat.  And so, the conversation inevitably came down:  How can we stop them?

American competitors were asking the same thing.  And even they weren’t adverse (to their later embarassment) to run off to Washington to beg for help from the Justice Department.  But that faded pretty quickly, especially after the dot.com bubble burst in 2000.

But the Europeans, especially now the EU, has never forgotten.  Nor has it ever abandoned its bureaucratic and legal efforts to deny Microsoft the ability to compete in that market.  Even now, when, as Bill Gates predicted a decade ago, Microsoft has become a sleepy old corporate giant content to protect its empire rather than expand, the EU still remains in hot pursuit.

In late 2007, Norwegian browser maker Opera filed an anti-trust suit with the European Commission accusing Microsoft of unfair practices by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows.  The complaint was an old story in the U.S., but apparently still alive in Europe, and the EC agreed to investigate.

Does Opera have a case? Probably.  But after more than a decade in business it still has only a 1-2 percent market share, most of it confined to Europe.  And while Opera might argue that this is prima facie evidence of Microsoft’s predatory practices, most analysts have noted that those same practices haven’t kept Firefox from chewing up Microsoft’s market share.

So, one would have predicted that this case would eventually be settled with the European Commission once again using access to the EU marketplace as a cudgel to get Microsoft to make a few more concessions. . .

That is, until yesterday.  That’s when, in the official company policy blog, Google’s VP of product management Sundar Pichai announced that his company would be participating as a third-party in the European Commission’s (EC) investigation.

Google no doubt thinks this is a smart strategic move, both because it adds extra muscle to a smackdown of its chief competitor — and, in the process, sucks up to the always dangerous European Commission.  But I predict that Google will come to regret this move.

Why?  Because for the last three years, on my visits to Europe, particularly the UK, Microsoft is never brought up in conversation.  The EU may still be obsessed with Redmond, but the business community and the media long ago moved.  Instead, care to guess which company the cognoscenti now consider to be the greatest high tech hegemonic threat to the European economy?

You guessed it:  Google.  I remember sitting in a room with a the editor of the UK Guardian being told just dangerous Google had become . . .and how it needed to be stopped.  In other words, exactly the conversation I had about Microsoft a decade before.

Google may think it is buying itself some credit with the European Commission by piling on against Microsoft.  But I don’t believe the EC sees it the same way.  On the contrary, the Commission, the European tech industry and the media may, perversely, see this as just another example of Google enjoying too much power and influence in the European market.

Karma, as they say, can be a bitch.  And in joining the Europeans in their assault on Microsoft, Google may soon learn that lesson first-hand.