Cringely’s Contradictory Thinking on Microsoft-Google Wars

by on July 13, 2009 · 9 comments

Goog MS logosI don’t get it. Technology journalist Robert X. Cringely, whose work I typically greatly admire, had a confusing editorial in the New York Times yesterday entitled “Chrome vs. Bing vs. You and Me” in which he makes what appear to me to be contradictory statements about the impact of the Google-Microsoft wars. Commenting on Google’s recent move into the OS world and Microsoft’s launch of Bing, its new and improved search platform, Cringely argues:

This is all heady stuff and good for lots of press, but in the end none of this is likely to make a real difference for either company or, indeed, for consumers. It’s just noise — a form of mutually assured destruction intended to keep each company in check.

That statement itself is hopelessly contradictory. If two companies are engaged in such a heated war “to keep each [other] in check,” isn’t that by definition something that could make a difference for consumers? Indeed, what Cringely goes on to say seems to confirm that in my mind:

So why does Google even bother? To keep Microsoft on its toes. [...]

So Google Chrome and Chrome OS and Android are all intended to keep Microsoft on the defensive and less likely to push its own Big Red Button. This makes even more sense given the recent advent of Microsoft’s Bing search technology, which performs precisely the same competitive control function against Google. Bing hasn’t a hope of toppling Google as the premier search engine and Microsoft knows it. To date, Bing’s success has actually been at the expense of Google’s competitors, not Google itself. But thanks to Microsoft’s deep pockets and fierce screwball reputation, Bing has already accomplished its main purpose: reminding Google executives who they’re messing with.

Hey, what’s wrong with all of this?!  Of course, it may be true, as Cringely argues, that, “Some company with a new idea and no legacy products to defend will eventually arise to clean Microsoft’s clock. Or maybe Microsoft’s market will simply disappear as PC’s are subsumed into cars and mobile phones, possibly leaving Windows behind in the process.” But what’s wrong with Google putting the pressure on in the meantime? And why shouldn’t we love the sound of Microsoft putting more pressure on Google with Bing? I’ve been using Bing a lot lately (I’ve made it my new Firefox search default, in fact) and have been very impressed. Even if it doesn’t win back market share lost to Google in recent years, it really does keep Google on its toes and innovating.  And that’s a great thing.

Moreover, what would Cringely prefer? For both companies to just cede traditional territory to the other and roll over and play dead? I’m not sure how that would benefit anyone.

His confusing editorial ends with still more contradiction, arguing that, until some other independent innovators arise to truly topple Microsoft and Google, “these [two] companies will posture, spend a little money on research and development, and keep each other in check, while reporters and publications pretend that it matters.”  Again, Robert, it does matter. The money spent on R&D (which is not “a little” amount, I might add) and the pressure they place on each other by encroaching on each other’s core competencies, is important to the market, consumers, and future innovation. Cringely should be praising these developments, not complaining about them.

  • Facebook User

    Good post Adam. A little lengthy, but good.

    I think Cringely is underestimating the significance of both Bing and Google's Chrome OS.

    Bing is the first real shot that Microsoft has had at competing with Google. Notice how it's not named MSN or Microsoft Live Search? Both were horrible names that put the clunky, blue-screening reputation of Microsoft out front. A dumb branding move.

    Now, Microsoft is doing the right thing by creating a new brand and positioning it as a “decision engine” rather than a search engine. Microsoft knows it's next to impossible beat Google in a head-to-head fight, so it's trying to be number one in a category it invented, much like Cray did by inventing the product category of “super computer.”

    Google's Chrome OS has much more potential. Netbooks ARE the future, there can be no doubt about that. The average user simply doesn't need more RAM, a faster processor, more hard drive. These things are wasted on a web-enabled world and so is the clunky OS that keeps them all cooperating. Chrome could easily cut into Microsoft's sales, especially if Google decides to make its apps less feature poor, or if more people turn on to things like Think Free or ZOHO.

    In a year or so I may be recommending that my mom buy a Linux-powered laptop. That's saying something.

    I love Cringely too, but I agree that he misses the mark here.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    Good post Adam. A little lengthy, but good.

    I think Cringely is underestimating the significance of both Bing and Google's Chrome OS.

    Bing is the first real shot that Microsoft has had at competing with Google. Notice how it's not named MSN or Microsoft Live Search? Both were horrible names that put the clunky, blue-screening reputation of Microsoft out front. A dumb branding move.

    Now, Microsoft is doing the right thing by creating a new brand and positioning it as a “decision engine” rather than a search engine. Microsoft knows it's next to impossible beat Google in a head-to-head fight, so it's trying to be number one in a category it invented, much like Cray did by inventing the product category of “super computer.”

    Google's Chrome OS has much more potential. Netbooks ARE the future, there can be no doubt about that. The average user simply doesn't need more RAM, a faster processor, more hard drive. These things are wasted on a web-enabled world and so is the clunky OS that keeps them all cooperating. Chrome could easily cut into Microsoft's sales, especially if Google decides to make its apps less feature poor, or if more people turn on to things like Think Free or ZOHO.

    In a year or so I may be recommending that my mom buy a Linux-powered laptop. That's saying something.

    I love Cringely too, but I agree that he misses the mark here.

  • Ryan Radia

    Cringely's suggestion that MS might attempt to block Windows users from accessing Google is particularly absurd. Seems like he is just making noise for controversy's sake without making any real policy or technical arguments.

  • bigoforcringely

    i think you people have missed cringeley's point. these are two super powers who simply cant be unlinked. they count on each other for their money and power. that means neither will do anything to remove their opponent from their position. google cant afford to remove microsoft, because microsoft is its largest supplier of customers. and the reverse is also true. therefore whatever they release to press about their new projects, those projects will never do enough to undo their opponent. that's a common problem with oligopolies, when there are so few power houses, they just agree to disagree on the way to do something but there is no real change for the customer/consumer.

    that's exactly why apple and microsoft never really destroyed each other. its too good for business to keep each other around and have a pretend war.

    so cringely correctly points out, the way customers/consumers will see real change, is through some unknown, small company who doesnt depend on either google or microsoft and therefore doesnt give a rats if those companies survive.

    viva la 'basement' or 'garage shop' entrepreneur.
    that's change.

  • http://www.techliberation.com Adam Thierer

    So you're saying that “big” companies can never really compete or that they are locked in some silent conspiracy against the masses? Is that your theory? Because I'm sure that would come as a big surprise to many folks at Google and Microsoft!

    Meanwhile, Joe Customer continues to enjoy a steady flow of innovative products from these two. But I suppose it's all some grand illusion in your book, right?

  • bigoforcringely

    its more of an involuntary conspiracy. the basis for captilism is competition until you reach oligopoly state, it stagnates with each of the members happy to keep the status quo. it definately feels like a conspiracy buts its not. each is doing what capitlism demands, thats maximize profits. at some point, if the equilibrium in broken, they actually make less, so its more profitable to leave it alone. its always a delicate balance that can be broken, but new small guys tipping the scale or as sometimes happens, making aliances. the consumer is not really part of the equation, when you have a closed market. for example, what other operating system can you realistic use right now? lynix maybe, apple?, not really, unless you run windows on it. same is true on search engines. who else besides google are you going to use? the best is not a consideration, just the market penetration.

    so im banking on a new little guy, who right now is saying. “i'm sick of being pushed into google or microsoft', “i can do a better job”.

    at any moment, they will enter the stage!

  • bigoforcringely

    its more of an involuntary conspiracy. the basis for captilism is competition until you reach oligopoly state, it stagnates with each of the members happy to keep the status quo. it definately feels like a conspiracy buts its not. each is doing what capitlism demands, thats maximize profits. at some point, if the equilibrium in broken, they actually make less, so its more profitable to leave it alone. its always a delicate balance that can be broken, but new small guys tipping the scale or as sometimes happens, making aliances. the consumer is not really part of the equation, when you have a closed market. for example, what other operating system can you realistic use right now? lynix maybe, apple?, not really, unless you run windows on it. same is true on search engines. who else besides google are you going to use? the best is not a consideration, just the market penetration.

    so im banking on a new little guy, who right now is saying. “i'm sick of being pushed into google or microsoft', “i can do a better job”.

    at any moment, they will enter the stage!

  • bigoforcringely

    its more of an involuntary conspiracy. the basis for captilism is competition until you reach oligopoly state, it stagnates with each of the members happy to keep the status quo. it definately feels like a conspiracy buts its not. each is doing what capitlism demands, thats maximize profits. at some point, if the equilibrium in broken, they actually make less, so its more profitable to leave it alone. its always a delicate balance that can be broken, but new small guys tipping the scale or as sometimes happens, making aliances. the consumer is not really part of the equation, when you have a closed market. for example, what other operating system can you realistic use right now? lynix maybe, apple?, not really, unless you run windows on it. same is true on search engines. who else besides google are you going to use? the best is not a consideration, just the market penetration.

    so im banking on a new little guy, who right now is saying. “i'm sick of being pushed into google or microsoft', “i can do a better job”.

    at any moment, they will enter the stage!

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