Google to Microsoft: Up yours

Google's announcements last week about curtailing Microsoft-centric services were more symbolic than real, but the message came across loud and clear

Last week, to hear the press tell it, Google went on a rampage against Microsoft.

First, Clay Bavor, product management director for Google Apps, told the folks at the UK V3 site: "We have no plans to build out Windows apps. We are very careful about where we invest and will go where the users are, but they are not on Windows Phone or Windows 8."

Then on the Google Official Blog, VP of engineering Benkat Panchapakesan said, "Starting January 30, 2013, consumers won't be able to set up new devices using Google Sync," a comment that was widely, incorrectly, reported as saying that Google was dropping support for Microsoft's Exchange ActiveSync protocol.

On the one hand, there's much less here than meets the eye. On the other hand, Google's certainly given Microsoft a very highly publicized Bronx cheer.

Let me start with the Windows 8/Windows Phone abandonment. Right now, Google doesn't have Metro apps on Windows 8 or Windows Phone. Google never has been on Windows 8 or Windows Phone, and only a wide-eyed innocent would ever dream that Google was headed in that direction. The folks at Google have enough experience with writing Windows apps (exhibit Number 1: Google Desktop Search) that they know better than to put themselves at the mercy of Microsoft API changes. No doubt they're also a touch, uh, skeptical about their chances of getting and keeping an app in the Windows Store. The fact that Bing is hard-wired or almost-hard-wired into every nook and cranny of Windows Phone 8, Windows 8, and Windows RT kind of sets the tone.

With Windows Phone 8, Metro Windows 8, and Windows RT locked down to the Windows Store, Google isn't naive enough to pour resources into building Metro apps. Of course Google has no plans to build out Windows apps.

Notably, the converse isn't true: Microsoft seems poised to put Office 2013, at least, onto the Android platform. Right now, Microsoft has 16 apps on the Android Play Store, including SkyDrive, OneNote and Lync, Box Live, MSN Cricket, and Kinect Star Wars. Microsoft needs Android exposure. Google couldn't care less about Windows Phone 8, Windows 8, or Windows RT.

There's also much less than meets the eye with Google abandoning Exhange ActiveSync. Google Sync is built on Exchange ActiveSync, but it's a proprietary system that's designed to sync mail, calendars, and contacts, as well as provide some EAS services, including security policy enforcement. Google Sync isn't Google's only sync product. For years, Google's been able to sync email with IMAP and sync calendars with CalDAV. On September 28 of this year, Google announced that it was adding CardDAV support for syncing contacts.

Google isn't abandoning its EAS support. Effective Jan. 30, 2013, Google will no longer allow you to set up EAS support on a new device, unless the account you're using is from a Google Apps domain. If you already have Google Sync set up with an existing Google account, you can continue to use Google Sync/EAS on that device for as long as you like.

Hidden in the fine print: The change only makes a difference for Windows Phone and Windows Mobile users. Android users get all the sync they want natively, no intervening software required. iOS users can choose between Google Sync/EAS and IMAP/CalDAV/CardDAV syncing. At the risk of starting a religious war, I would venture to say that many people prefer the latter, and for good reason. Certainly, if Google Sync isn't available for your new iPhone or iPad, IMAP and the DAVs provide a reasonable alternative.

Windows Phone users won't be able to use Google Sync on new devices after Jan. 30, unless they're using an email address that's being run through Google Apps. When you set up a Gmail account on Windows Phone currently, you're given two choices: sync email, or sync email, contacts, and calendar. After Jan. 30, if you set up a Gmail account that isn't part of a Google Apps domain, you won't get the second choice.

But where's the beef? Switching to a Hotmail, er, Outlook.com account gives you EAS, and you can easily use Hotmail to gather your Gmail mail. You can suck your Google contacts and calendar into Outlook.com, too, but it's a one-way street. And you can use Windows 8/Windows RT's Metro People and Calendar apps to keep it all on your tablet, netbook, or desktop.

The only people who will be severely affected by Google's change in EAS policy are new Windows Phone users who have Gmail accounts that aren't part of a Google Apps domain and who want to use Google Calendar or Google Contacts, instead of switching to Outlook.com's Calendar and People apps.

It's a tempest in a teapot, folks. But Google's skillfully turned it into an "up yours, Microsoft" PR moment.

This story, "Google to Microsoft: Up yours," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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