Newsweek columnist Dan Lyons is prone to writing (and saying, if you've been fortunate enough to be entertained hearing him speak in conference halls) outrageous things.
We wouldn't expect anything less of a man who writes a faux blog dubbed The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs.
So I braced myself when I read his latest column, "Google This!" in which he describes the evolving business models and modern warfare tactics of Google and Microsoft, or Google versus Microsoft, as it were.
Lyons' news peg is the latest titillating rumor that News Corp. is in talks with Microsoft and the rest of the publishing world to deindex its Websites from Google and make their content available exclusively through Microsoft's Bing search engine.
Ideally, this would help Bing, a budding search engine of nearly 10 percent market share, gain on Google, the lion of the search jungle. Lyons also addresses Google's plan to undercut Microsoft Windows with Chrome Operating System, that OS for running Web apps and nothing else (for now).
Lyons gracefully treats both the search and OS battlefronts with respect, and laments the path Google is heading down to put ads in front of us everywhere, but then he supplies an interesting conclusion:
"The sad truth is that Google and Microsoft care less about making cool products than they do about hurting each other. Their fighting has little to do with helping customers and a lot to do with helping themselves to a bigger slice of the money we all spend to buy computers and surf the Internet. Microsoft wants to ruin Google's search business. Google wants to ruin Microsoft's OS business. At the end of the day, they both seem like overgrown nerdy schoolboys fighting over each other's toys."
It's easy to muddy what's really going on with sarcasm, and Lyons excels at this (this is also what makes him such an entertaining, controversial columnist), but I think this doesn't do either company justice.
Lyons' implication is that Google and Microsoft's customers will suffer in the long run due to the competitive slugfests. I disagree.
Thanks to Bing, Google's search upgrades are accelerating at a nice clip (check out the new user interface) Meanwhile, Caffeine is coming soon to speed up Google search. Conversely, if Chrome OS bears fruit in 2010 as Google expects, I expect it to drive Windows to better innovation.
I once believed Microsoft didn't have a clue how to serve Internet consumers, but from what I've seen of Bing -- and that's a lot -- this is no longer the case. Microsoft has adopted Google's consumer-first attitude to search. Thank Google for that.
Meanwhile, Chrome OS appears to be the antithesis of Windows, even the praised Windows 7 as it's been constructed. It's for Web apps, not local apps, a rethinking of the way we consume software and services. Thank Microsoft for that.
Of course, both companies know that if they build excellent search and other Web services for the desktop and mobile Internet, consumers will follow like sheep.
For Google, getting the ads in front of the consumers has hardly disrupted the consumer experience (though if the new Google search layout is any indication, the ads may end up in our laps).
I expect that to continue and extend to Google's mobile search, and eventually sponsored audio ads delivered to our desktops and mobile phones via Google Voice.
Microsoft will follow suit across its Web services and the competition will accelerate. If anything, Google and Microsoft, in the course of beating on each other, will help each other help the customers.