Sun, Microsoft Search Deal Underscore Google's Growing Monopoly

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2008-11-10 Print this article Print

Update: Funny how things evolve in high-tech, with some deals lasting what seems like ages and others, announced with so much enthusiasm, dying out. I want to talk about an example of the latter.

Slightly more than three years ago, in October 2005, Google and Sun Microsystems embarked on an interesting partnership. Sun agreed to distribute the Google toolbar with the Java Runtime Environment (JRE) in a deal announced with fanfare by Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt and then Sun Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy.

The idea was to pair Google's popular search with Sun's can't miss Java software, bolstering Google's search market share and Sun's solid Java market share. Google and Sun followed up their love affair in 2007 by bundling StarOffice with the free Google Pack suite.

Both deals appear to be kaput and both companies are at polar opposites in terms of relative fiscal health. Google quietly yanked StarOffice from Google Pack, while Sun agreed today to offer Microsoft's Live Search toolbar with Java downloads.

A Google spokesperson told me this about StarOffice:

We are constantly evaluating which products to include in Google Pack to make it more valuable to users. At this time the agreement to distribute StarOffice through Google Pack has expired, and we have decided with Sun not to renew the agreement.

All of which means the deal wasn't going anywhere. Meanwhile, a Sun spokesperson told AP that Sun's search toolbar and JRE deal with Google is done. Google confirmed it for me later, but didn't specify when the deal expired beyond "pretty recently."

So, what is being paired now?

An aging Java solution, which despite being on 91 percent of Internet-connected PCs worldwide, comes from a struggling company that lost $1.7 billion in the most recent quarter, and Live Search, which has failed to gain share against Google's meteoric rise.

Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan sees some potential positives, but with this caveat: users "will be put-off by a prompt to change search providers, if they already use Google."

I say we now have two loveable losers, Sun and Microsoft, in a last-ditch gasp, but to do what? Sun is past the point of stopping people from defecting to other low-end servers, it lost the soul of its engineering team in Andy Bechtolsheim, and is also laying people off, among other issues.

Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but who the heck uses StarOffice? We all know millions use Exchange and Outlook, and Google App has received its share of love, but you rarely hear shout-outs to StarOffice.

Microsoft meanwhile whiffed on its bid to buy Yahoo and is not making headway against Google on the Internet. Azure is nice in concept, but it's just vaporware right now.

Ultimately, I have no confidence in the Sun-Microsoft search deal and see it more as an "us against Google play." Sun under McNealy absolutely loathed Microsoft, as my Microsoft Watch colleague Joe Wilcox pointed out "for bastardizing Java." Yet now it's getting in bed with Microsoft, the weaker search engine, with far fewer users.

Look, I'm all for deals that make strategic business sense, but this just seems like two lame ducks each tying one leg together and trying to race across the pond to something that is more mirage than island.

They're not going to get anywhere versus Google. But maybe that's not the point. The failure of the Google-Yahoo search deal crystallized what many of us believed for awhile: That Google is getting too big for its britches and is seen as a major competitive threat, a monopolist even.

Sun, which sued Microsoft for being monopolist, is now aligning itself with Microsoft, helping Microsoft take on Google. Maybe that's all there is to it, and if so, fine. If that doesn't put a big target on Google, I don't know what does.

In the meantime, and until some smoking gun puts a crimp in Google's gluttony, Sun and Microsoft will suffer together as two also rans: Sun in everything, and Microsoft in search and on the Web. |

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