Over the past several months, its hard to say which weve seen more of—new Google service announcements or proclamations from Steve Ballmer regarding Microsofts resolve to beat Google at the search-and-related-services game that Google is coming to dominate. At stake is not just Microsofts desktop dominance but also a potential redesigning of end-user computing on a network-based and platform-independent foundation.
Google Talk, the text and voice instant messaging service thats the latest (unless Google has shipped something new by press time) in the long string of application and service introductions from Google, seems like a natural extension of the companys Internet franchise, but do Googles parts make up a whole that is capable of altering the IT balance of power?
In the short term, the answer is no. To the extent that Google builds and distributes applications, the company is a solidly Windows-only vendor. Sure, Google Desktop exposes the paltry state of the native Windows search tools, but the product boosts search only for Windows users. Similarly, Google Talk competes with MSN Messenger, but the software is still exclusive to Windows. Same with Googles Blogger plug-in, which is written for Microsoft Word.
However, while Google is more Windows-exclusive than wed like to see, the company is building the bulk of its services on open-source and cross-platform roots, which leaves open the door for platform diversity in the future. For instance, Googles embedded video player is based on the free and multiplatform VLC project, while Yahoo ties its music and video services, such as launch.com, exclusively to Windows Media Player.
Likewise, while the Google Talk application runs only on Windows, the service is based on the open-source Jabber IM server, and Google provides documentation on using the text messaging portion of Google Talk with free, cross-platform clients, such as Gaim.
The biggest threat that Google poses to Microsoft, and the biggest potential benefit for businesses and consumers, is that Google could blaze a trail to workable hosted applications beyond the search and Web mail services that it and others have so far provided.
If Google can manage to figure out a solid way to expand its services to include Office suite functionality online, then it wouldnt matter what platform you were using, and the application lock-in pillar of the Microsoft desktop monopoly would begin to fall away.
Google should expand its services to challenge Microsofts monopoly. When network-based, platform-independent applications are available, any company with a server farm and a group of talented developers will be able to compete with Google or whomever else. Thats competition that isnt possible in todays Windows-dependent application world, and its competition that would spur vendors to outdo one another in features, performance and security—with customers reaping the ultimate gain.
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