Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) is an exciting company -- arguably the most intriguing company of my generation. Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), on the other hand, has always been that rich, monopolistic giant that charged a lot of money for software. However, recent events are changing the way Microsoft is being perceived. It is no longer the big, scary, monolithic, gray monstrosity of the 90s and early 00s, and I daresay Google is losing its grip on the title of the funky “Do No Evil” upstart.
From the start, Google has been about openness, sharing, free stuff, and more. Its idealistic mission statement -- “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful” -- gets people like me pretty motivated. In fact, I’ve said publicly on more than one occasion that Google is the only brand I’d consider “selling my entrepreneurial soul” to.
For years, Microsoft has been ideologically resistant to free markets and has viewed open-source software as a serious threat. As I discovered the open source movement, I grew more and more resentful and cynical toward Microsoft. It didn’t take much convincing to get me to switch to applications like Open Office and eventually Mac and OSX. However, things have happened at Redmond headquarters in recent times that are shifting the software giant in a very different direction.
Consider the following events and changes in Microsoft that are spawning very different opinions about the company, in both tech and business spheres:
- Robert Scoble's phenomenally successful example of how to change the perception of a brand through "corporate blogging," whether he was mandated to do so or not, changed the way thousands, maybe millions, of people regarded Microsoft.
- Microsoft’s investment in Facebook (Nasdaq: FB) shows a real commitment to the social Web (Web 2.0).
- Microsoft’s designs on Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO) show a real intention to provide competitive search and advertising platforms for publishers on the Web.
- See this post and its 600 comments for a taste of how the developer community feels about Microsoft’s increasingly "open" and pro-standards approach.
- Though Apple’s iPod still owns the portable multimedia player device market, the unquestionable success of Microsoft’s entertainment sub-brands, Xbox and Zune, is powerful because the direct result is an entire generation of young gaming enthusiasts who know nothing of Microsoft’s history -- antitrust trials and penalties, the OS wars, etc. To today’s teenagers Microsoft is the cool brand behind Halo 3. Not bad.
- Bill Gates’s impending exit from the company is not important because Bill Gates is a bad leader -- on the contrary, he’s built up one hell of an empire -- but rather it’s significant because he signifies for many of us, fairly or not, the old Microsoft.
- OK, so it is presumptuous of me to infer that one interview could make a monumental difference? But Guy Kawasaki’s interview of Steve Ballmer at MIX08 recently was a revelation -- and I really got the sense of a watershed moment for the company. I may be wrong, and perhaps I was just caught up in the hype and PR of the moment, but it was a big moment in my opinion… and many others feel the same.
Why is this shift happening? Is it just a perception, or is Microsoft making a conscious effort to change the game, while Google battles the inevitable struggles of being an enormous corporation? Could it be that Microsoft’s almost-underdog status in certain areas of modern computing (especially online) puts it in good standing for the future, especially considering the massive financial backing it has?
You see, as Google grows ever bigger and more influential, with board members and shareholders to report to, it stands to lose so much more. It’s directly proportionate. The more you have, the more paranoid you are about losing it. Google is now the leading player on the Web. When you’re in front you’re a target.
Microsoft, as I’ve said before, is currently the underdog. It has an inferior search platform, pretty random email services, and, well, that’s about it. But suddenly, through products like Silverlight, investments and acquisitions in key Web properties, and enough money to give Google a fright if Microsoft does buy Yahoo, it's rising from relative online obscurity and into significance.
Google is more dominant and influential than ever before, but with that comes the need to be a mega-corporation and the danger of being out in front. Microsoft has all the money in the world, a carefully mapped out strategy, and an all-new, more-open-than-ever approach to the Web and the community that makes it function.
— Mike Stopforth, South African Web 2.0 entrepreneur, writer, and speaker