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Google News: Why You're Getting So Much Google

Everybody should have a chance to spend a summer weekend here in Boston when the Yankees are in town to play the Red Sox. There's real electricity in the air all over town, and a fire in peoples' eyes everywhere you go. Everybody here cares -- everybody, even native Texans like me who like football better than baseball or those who don't care about sports at all. It's an event, a happening, a big deal.

That's because Yankees vs. Red Sox is a rivalry, and everybody loves a rivalry. Everybody needs a rival, too. A great rivalry makes make both sides better -- it forces them to concentrate, to innovate, to keep pushing forward in order to gain some sort of advantage in the competition. It encourages both sides to stay sharp and not get lazy. For the most part and when not taken to ridiculous, soccer-hooligan-style extremes, rivalries are healthy, necessary things not just in sports but in life. Our economy, our capitalist system, to some extent even our culture are all built on rivalries.

When a great rivalry dies, the competition it once enflamed just isn't that much fun anymore. The Olympic Games, you have to admit, are pretty lame now without the USSR around to play Ivan Drago to our Rocky. And so it is in the software industry. Microsoft has swept away all before it, conquering IBM, Apple, Sun and everybody else who dared take on the Windows monolith. Pretty much every other player in the industry sails on the good ship Microsoft now, making money off of Redmond and playing along with the company's plans. Granted, Microsoft is still doing a lot of good things for users and partners. However, it, too, needs a rival -- somebody to keep the company from becoming any more bloated than it already is and provide some serious alternatives to the dominant and increasingly expensive Windows and Office mainstays (more on that in a minute).

And that's why you're reading so much about Google, Microsoft's would-be, should-be, will-be rival. The battle for Internet search is well under way, and Google is winning big-time in a contest into which Microsoft is pouring serious resources. Now, with the anticipated battle for the desktop gearing up, any shred of Google news gets OJ-style coverage from the tech press (as readers of this newsletter can attest) and pretty good penetration in the mainstream press as well. This week, Google announced that it is releasing a simple spreadsheet application, and the virtual ink began to flow. Everybody got into the act. Headlines screamed that Google was gunning for Microsoft. Then, the "experts" had their say, revealing to us that Excel might just survive the Google onslaught after all.

Even Fox News got in on the act.

Well, duh. What Google is releasing isn't comparable to Excel and isn't even supposed to be. (Take a look here.) It's just that everybody who picks up a pen to write about technology these days is so desperate for somebody to take a real swipe at Microsoft -- for somebody to be the Red Sox to Redmond's Yankees -- that we're all making Google out to have more than it has, for now. Will Google be a real player on the desktop and provide a real alternative to Office...or Windows? Probably, someday. But not right now and not anytime soon. For now, it is users and partners who are going to have to put whatever pressure they can on Microsoft to stay focused. It took the Red Sox 86 years to finally overcome the Yankees and win a championship. Google probably won't take that long to become a serious contender for Microsoft's throne, but the desktop rivalry isn't quite ready for prime time yet.

(And while we're at it, there was yet another Google-Dell story today -- just because you couldn't get enough.)

Are you tired of reading about Google? Unload here: [email protected].

Your Two Cents on the Price of Office and Vista
Thank you, thank you, thank you. We are now getting more responses to the newsletter than we've ever had before. Now for the bad news: I don't have room to run every e-mail in its entirety. So, here's a sampling of the responses that I got last week when I asked about pricing for Office 2007 and Vista, which I said seemed pretty expensive. Apparently, you agreed with me -- and maybe open source really does have a following after all:

Curtis, a proponent of open source, says:

"I think $670 is a lot for Office, when there is free stuff out there for the asking. Goodbye, Microsoft, is all I have to say."

Kevin's a happy open-source guy, too:

"Open source offerings are certainly becoming more appealing. Within the last three months, I bought a 2GB U3 USB drive and now have Thunderbird, Firefox, Skype, Trillian and OpenOffice running on it, all for the $120 cost of the USB drive. I am VERY impressed with this toolset...This from a Microsoft-centric developer. I have an MCSD and make my living being a SQL Server and Microsoft BI expert. Outside of my professional role, I can't imagine shelling out even $200 to upgrade my OS, and my family would be happy not to have dad upgrading/changing the computer for years."

Bruce has similar thoughts:

"Sometime back I even heard that 90 percent of the users use 10 percent of the features (in Office). I see a time coming when those looking at the bottom line are going to be asking more questions and looking at other options. It will soon reach a point when management realizes it costs less to employ the IT staff to support open source applications than does to buy the software. It has already started with small to medium-size businesses that can't afford it or don't want to put up with the hassles licensing causes. When that happens, Microsoft will have done what its competition have not been able to do in years."

John writes that the new stuff could be a tough sell:

"The vast majority of my clients are small businesses with a shoestring budget for IT to begin with. I have a hard enough time convincing them they need to upgrade that 6-year-old laptop running XP to a newer model. The cost of the software is going to curtail many expenditures and keep the old software in use."

Rob writes from all the way in South Africa that Microsoft isn't doing right by its customers with Vista:

"Microsoft's licensing policy will create the problem. With the Vista release date slipping, I doubt that [its] artificial update release, brought out in order to appease those who purchased update protection and who would have received nothing for their sizable investment, fools anyone.

If MS had offered a free upgrade option for Vista, it would have sat better; but as it is, my impression is that the purchasers of upgrade protection are beginning to feel that this was simply a money-grabbing ploy. Of course MS may still change their game, which would be the clever thing to do, but then again [its] investors are looking for bigger dividends. Talk about a rock and a hard place!"

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And Bill says that trying to manage Vista upgrades just seems a little ridiculous:

"I don't know about the cost, but there is no good reason I see for upgrading, and six versions of an OS? Who are they kidding besides us?"

Good question, Bill. And maybe there is a little open-source revolution (or evolution) slowly brewing. Very slowly. As long as Microsoft keeps jacking up the costs of its software...the door is open.

Thanks to everybody who wrote in, and thanks again for reading. I'm always available at [email protected].

Big Guns at the Security Showdown
It's on in the security space, with Microsoft moving in on both the desktop side and in the e-mail and anti-spyware space. It appears that Antigen, the anti-spyware applications, won't be bundled into Vista or Exchange. Let's see how they do competing without being part of the meal ticket.

If you've had some experience with Microsoft's security products, give me your impressions at [email protected].

Is Microsoft Business Intelligent?
We're going to find out soon enough. Redmond is serious about this hot this space for more perspectives on BI in the weeks to come.

Posted by Lee Pender on June 07, 2006