Remember when Microsoft was the company feared for trying to dominate the computing world? That risk has passed, but a new one -- with Google in the role of the bad Borg -- is taking its place.
Microsoft's "ownership" of the desktop operating system and its attempt to own the Internet via Internet Explorer was a terrible detriment to innovation and competition in the tech marketplace -- so it was struck down, first by the U.S. Justice Department's antitrust actions and more recently by users as they adopt alternative technologies in the cloud and in mobile devices. It's hard to argue that an unfettered Microsoft, free to strangle the Internet in its cradle by jamming Internet Explorer down everyone's throat, would have been a good thing.
Today, the desktop operating system as we knew it is no longer the centerpiece of computing. That's not to say it isn't important, but technology has moved on. At the moment, nothing has really taken its place; the tech world is multipolar, with products from Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and -- perhaps most important -- Google determining how billions of people related to the digital world.
If anything sets the tone for both desktop and mobile computing today, it's search, and there of course is where Google has no real rival. (Sorry Bing, you've yet to move to the major leagues.) The combination of search and advertising is the Windows of today. Search dominates our experience of the Web, while advertising dominates the business model of the Web. That's not a new thought, of course, but Google's planned foray into the online travel business, not a sector I'd normally care about, brings new concerns about the search giant's effect on competition to the fore. Coincidentally, the E.U. shares that concern and is already investigating.
In July, Google reached an agreement to buy ITA Software, a maker of air-travel information applications, but the $700 million deal is awaiting U.S. federal regulatory approval. The acquisition was the subject of a rather critical editorial in the New York Times this week, a piece that provoked conversation around the Web, some of it pretty interesting.
Greg Sterling over at Search Engine Land critiqued the Times for not just coming out and saying what he thinks the paper really means: block the deal. So I'll say it: Block the deal, and take a hard look at Google's effect on competition.
When Microsoft ruled the earth
In case you weren't around in the 1980s, let me remind you of how Microsoft used to act.
Every now and then, Bill Gates would look around and notice a technology, generally one owned by a small company, and decide it should be part of DOS -- and later, Windows. Microsoft would then add a feature like disk compression or file management to the operating system and give it away. That spelled the end of lots of small competitors and a certain amount of innovation.