It has been entertaining to watch these two 800lb Gorillas go at each other. While each companies core business is separate from the others, there is so much overlap in ancillary products that they have their swords drawn.

Microsoft wants the search traffic, and Google wants the Business Applications business. Pretty much the line in the sand has been drawn. Of course neither company will openly admit their envy of each other, preferring instead to wage a war of innuendo.

lets take a look at what is going on in the various arenas.

Both companies offer a web search facility, Google owns approximately 60% of the traffic, and Microsoft having thrown millions of dollars at the problem lags behind Yahoo (20%) with a rather disappointing 9%. Microsoft Search just has not found the volume of users that it needs.

In the search arena Google rules.

Both companies offer free web based E-Mail services, Google has Gmail, and Microsoft has Hot-Mail. Both offer similar features, both have similar drawbacks. Due to the huge number of users it has become a game to just find a unique userid that still maintains some semblance of sensibility has gone out of the window. Who can remember I know I could not. Even worse, people use these silly email addresses on their resumes! Do not laugh, I have written enough resumes in my time, people do it. If you are trying to make an impression on a perspective employer, having an email addy of is not the way to go! As far as email goes, I think Google wins by a small fraction, Gmail incorporates the basic core of Google Search, so it is relatively easy to track down older emails, it you can remember a few words from the original. On the downside, Gmail does not allow you to create specific buckets (folders) to put interesting emails into, instead they use a ‘colored star’ system. I find this inconvenient. It also loves to create ‘threads’ once again, this is a feature that has it’s ups and downs. I am not a normal user, and it is not unusual for one of my ‘threads’ to exceed 50 messages, threading makes finding the email I want a real chore.

Hotmail also suffers from its own set of issues. The credibility of sending an email to someone that you do not know, and using the address will likely result in the email being deleted before it is even looked at. One study I read claimed that at one point over 80% of all email traffic on hotmail was spam.

I have used both services, and in the email category I think the win goes to Google, but not by much.

By far the biggest battleground are the ‘office’ applications. An area that since 1997 Microsoft has been king of the hill with. Word and Excel are the bread and butter of Microsoft. Sure they make bags of money from Windows, but the real money is in the applications. Gouging consumers $150-$250 for Windows is small potatoes , getting $400 per seat for Microsoft Office is where the gold is! Google has also entered the fray with their Google Apps offerings. Google has Calendar and Gmail, which directly challenges the weakest of the Microsoft Office products Outlook. Outlook was at best an afterthought, it was and is, a very ill conceived and implemented application as it comes out of the box. It is hugely configurable, but few people have tackled that challenge. IT departments are too busy just keeping their networks functioning to spend time exploring Outlook, and in order to prevent HTK problems (Hand To Keyboard, otherwise known as self induced user problems) the IT gurus would rather lock down what the end user can change. The net result, well I can name on the fingers of one hand the number of people that are fans of Outlook. It sucks in email, it sucks as a contact manager, and generally it is anchored to a single computer. The Google equivalent may not be a panacea, but it offers essentially the same functionality, and provides an avenue to your information from any computer that has Internet connectivity.

Score one for Google!

The real meat and potatoes of the Office fight really boils down to Word Processing and Spreadsheets. These two applications are in use in virtually every office in the country. I have been a user of MS Word for well over a decade. What I see is an application that has become overrun with pointless add ons, the term ‘Bloat Ware’ comes to mind. I do not need a stupid paper clip icon popping up with suggestions. What I do need is easy access to the tools I want to use. The latest version of MS Office has done away with the familiar menu structure and replaced it with an often frustrating system of ribbons that are anything but intuitive.

Google’s response is Google Docs, a simple cloud based system that supports most of the features that the average user would want in a word processor and simplistic spread sheet. While I am not sure that I would want to use Google Docs to create complex technical documents with tables, annotated diagrams, table of contents, etc, it is a very capable program for simpler tasks. One very elegant feature is that the documents reside in the cloud, meaning that you can access them from any computer with internet access. You can also ‘share’ documents permitting a collaborative effort. With a price tag of $Free this makes it very attractive. It also has the ability to read and write in MS Word format.

From a feature standpoint MS wins this one, but from an ease of use standpoint Google is a clear winner.

Lets move on to productivity and contact management. MS Outlook is the most ill conceived and butt ugly application to ever come out of Redmond. It covers a lot of ground and does everything badly. It is almost as if MS took everything that didn’t fit nicely into any of the other Office products and loosely glued them together to make Outlook. In its defense though, if you have the patience of Job and a PhD in Astrophysics you can configure Outlook to actually do some potentially useful things.

I have yet to find something in Outlook that I would use that I cannot do using the various Google tools like Google Calendar. Once again the data is in the cloud, I can access my information from any computer, and any software platform.

I give this one to Google.

The core business of Microsoft is without doubt the various versions of Windows that it currently has. With the lions share of the world wide market in operating systems one would assume MS would have little to worry about. And certainly an upstart like Google should not be a threat. Google after all does not have an operating system. Actually that is not quite true, Google has been sponsoring the Android linux initiative.  Although it is primarily aimed  at portable devices, cell phones, PDA’s, and other mobile devices, it is a fully fledged OS, and has been successfully ported to some Asus netbooks with little effort. No, Android is not a Windows killer, though it may well put a crimp in Microsoft’s Windows CE (I call it WINCE) product. Microsoft are also suffering from some very poor press regarding their latest Windows venture Vista. Vista has not been as widely adopted by the business community. In fact Microsoft for the most part seems to have abandoned Vista in favor of its replacement Windows 7.  Vista has been as successful as the awful Widows ME that was released in 200.

Microsoft wins this battle, but should be very concerned. Android might not be the enemy, but there are plenty of them out there. Imagine what would happen is Apple were ever to release their OS for generic use?

Undoubtedly the arena that is most hotly contended is the Browser. Since the Internet became part of our daily lives we have had the Browser Wars. To date Microsoft has fended off the competition, although a good argument can be made that the battles have been won by somewhat unfair means. Most users are lazy, and by bundling Internet Explorer with Windows, many users just went along with it using the ‘path of least resistance’. Internet Explorer is rich on bloat, and poor on functionality.

Google has now entered the fray with their own browser Chrome. Chrome is lean and fast, and short on useless features. Although the market penetration is less that 1% I suspect that this will start to grow as the product matures. One very interesting aspect is that Google is touting Chrome as an application platform not just a browser.

For now Microsoft are winning, but the question is, for how much longer? I would love to be a fly on the wall in the Microsoft Board Room!

Simon Barrett

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