Google and Microsoft: a busy week

Enrique Dans. Professor. IE Business School

8 July 2009

The latest presentations carried out by Google and Microsoft have served to show who is who in the world of technology. Now we know where the real talent and innovation lies -who are the followers and who are the leaders.

It has undoubtedly been a very busy week in the technology arena. When that excellent, extremely well-known video that was created in 2004, EPIC 2015, spoke of two companies, Microsoft and Google, that "competed with each other by improving their services week after week", we never imagined that the future would be just around the corner. In fact, last week was an example of a seriously impressive move: while Microsoft was trying to attract the attention of the media by announcing the name of its new search engine, Bing, Google "stole the limelight" by showing more than 4,000 programmers in attendance at a large scale event for an as yet unfinished product, Google Wave, which is to change the way we communicate over the Internet. The move showed one of the new rules of business communication: an announcement made to 4,000 participants who are hyperactive on blogs, Twitter and all kinds of social networks is much more efficient in the area of communication than one made to four lonely souls, no matter how influential the lonely souls in question are. The result was as it should be: for a few days, all the media on the web devoted their attention to Google´s product and ignored Microsoft´s.

To reverse the situation, Microsoft brought forward the presentation of its new search engine in an attempt to grab more attention and opened it up to the general public. The result was that at the start of this week many had done what is usually done in these cases: they had tested the search engine by entering the usual terms that produce results they are familiar with or by searching for themselves while practising that increasingly commonplace sport called "ego-search". After all, in a world in which more and more people look for us on the Internet for an endless array of reasons, it is important to know what information Internet provides about oneself. And, in that respect at least, Microsoft´s search engine does not appear to have caused too much disappointment: it is fast and seems to use quite reasonable relevance criteria that are very similar to those of the search engine we all use, i.e. Google. In Spain, the proportion is overwhelming: around 96% of users search only on Google, a proportion that makes our country world leader in terms of market share for the Mountain View company.

Based on these conditioning factors, the question is obvious: are both companies comparable in any way? Let´s stick to the facts: while one was presenting the embryo of something like Google Wave, destined to revolutionise the way we communicate over the net by putting together pieces that currently work on a totally independent basis like e-mail, blog, social network and microblog, etc. into one single coherent flow of communication, what was the other one doing? The answer seems quite clear: the other one was presenting a search engine. A search engine, like so many other search engines, aimed at providing a solution for a problem that is almost non-existent: finding information on the net. And, what´s more, it does so in a way that is so similar to existing search engines that a mere glance at a results page does not make it possible to distinguish between one and the other. Moreover, we have come to expect this type of behaviour from Microsoft, a company that has so often based its growth on copying third-party ideas.

The fact that a new competitor arises on the search engine scenario is good for everyone: a diverse ecosystem leads to greater competition, more progress and dynamism. If Microsoft, which has announced investments in advertising of more than $100 million, is able to convince a certain number of users to perform their searches on its page instead of Google´s, basically to do what the other one already does, then so be it. But that and the leadership of the technological stage the Redmond company enjoyed at the end of last century are worlds apart. Make no mistake, in what has been a busy week, with the presentation of new products and ideas, it has become clear who is leader of the technology gang and who simply tries to follow in their wake.


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