We use the word “evil” with Google largely because when Google first started they seemed to want to be the anti-Microsoft and in the heads of the founders, much of what Microsoft did was evil. Then once they went public, they seemed to go down a list of things that Microsoft was alleged to have done and use it like a to-do list. In their latest move, they have moved to block anyone that wants to put Android and Windows on the same system - which is something Microsoft, to my knowledge, never did (granted they didn’t have to since such efforts invariably sucked) but this suggests Google is now moving beyond the Microsoft list into new areas in their effort to define the new ‘dark side’ and become the champion of evil. (Just search on Google the phrase “Google is evil” and you will find some interesting reading.)
Let’s explore that this week.
For much of the 90’s, Microsoft was believed to have stolen their ideas from others. The only case where there seemed to be a strong argument was with Windows itself - which appeared to be a copy of the Mac OS. Granted, the idea originated at Xerox PARC along with the idea for the mouse and is largely why both Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were once called the Pirates of Silicon Valley. Xerox sued both companies and Apple sued Microsoft, but Xerox failed because they had waited too long and Microsoft’s timely investment of $100M in Apple to help Apple’s turn around was partially predicated on Apple dropping the litigation.
If you were to look at this you could find fault with Xerox (for being stupid) and both Apple and Microsoft for taking advantage of poor, stupid Xerox.
Google’s Chairman was given a board seat by Steve Jobs who also mentored the Google founders. Google basically copied iOS with Android and then gave it away for free - effectively kicking Jobs in the coconuts. The biggest difference though between the products was that Jobs used Free BSD UNIX for the kernel in iOS rather than Linux because he thought folks that used Linux were idiots because the result would be too easy to steal. Google used Linux (I expect to show Jobs up) and Amazon promptly and legally stole it to create the Kindle.
What got Microsoft in trouble in the 1990s was the largely ineffective moves to cut Netscape off at the knees. Why I say ineffective is because I covered the DOJ trial extensively and while Microsoft did do a number of really questionable things, none of them actually worked. Netscape died as a result of horrid management and for some screwy reason, they decided to jump from browsers to enterprise software and that was just a bridge way too far.
At the core of the complaint that eventually resulted in sanctions against Microsoft was the practice of bundling Internet Explorer and providing it for free so other browsers couldn’t compete (Netscape was selling their browser at the time). Microsoft was alleged to have used a combination of predatory pricing and tying (where you require folks buy a package of products) to knock Netscape out.
Google entered the operating system market with free products (predatory pricing) and then changed their license so that if you wanted Google’s support you had to take their services (tying). But they’ve recently gone beyond Microsoft and won’t even allow vendors to allow systems to dual boot Android and Windows which is by nature anti-competitive.
What is really bizarre about all of this is that Google complained about this same behavior when Microsoft did it before being sanctioned. Actually Google is still complaining about some of this.
Of course I shouldn’t be too harsh on Google because back in 2009 they got to the core of the whole “evil” problem and eliminated the “Don’t Be Evil” motto. I’m guessing they quietly replaced it with “Evil’r Us”.
Wrapping Up: Who Cares?
You should. When a company is small, moves like this don’t have much market impact but Google is becoming the most powerful technology company in the world if not, the most powerful company in the world. With massive access to your personal data, a multi-billion dollar war chest, influence in the Obama administration and efforts that could make entire classes of workers obsolete, they are well on the path to eclipsing even the old Standard Oil (who scared my Grandparents generation to death).
Power corrupts and it particularly bothers me to hear that the anti-trust actions against the company are being secretly settled (largely because everyone and their brother objects to them if they are public). Microsoft never reached a level of power where the E.U. would hand out secret settlements to them and rather than the billions they paid Google who is even more willing to absorb tiny fines in exchange for doing anything they want. Now that’s scary. At least there is no Church of Google. Oh crap…
President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group
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