Google and Microsoft: Separated at Birth?

With Microsoft's Bing and Google's Chrome OS, each company made a move that was more characteristic of the other. Are the companies adopting each other's best or worst habits, and can the enterprise benefit from a Google-Microsoft morph?

There's a famous quote from Walt Kelly's Pogo that goes, "We have met the enemy and he is us."

This quote has been jumping to my mind a lot lately as I've watched the ongoing battle between Microsoft and Google. That's because I've been finding it a lot harder lately to tell these two companies apart. In many ways, Google has become a lot more like Microsoft, while Microsoft has been taking on some of Google's characteristics.

Don't believe me? Let's do a little experiment.

Imagine I have the ability to time travel and that I've chosen to go back four months ago. I walk up to you and tell you that in the near future there will be two major volleys in the Google-Microsoft war, but I don't tell you which company does what.

I do tell you that in a few months one of the companies--let's call it Company A--will release a surprise new product that strikes at the core of the other's business. This new surprise product will immediately garner lots of praise and attention, with even major skeptics applauding its implementation and features. In no time, this new product will have made inroads into the other company's market.

Then I tell you that just a few weeks later, Company B will launch its response. This will take the form of what is essentially an announcement that Company B is planning to release a new product that will compete with Company A's core.

There will be no actual product shown, and the first look at the product is at least months away. While a real product will most likely actually be released, right now the response from Company B is basically an example of FUD.

Now, after giving you this information, I ask you to guess which company is Google and which is Microsoft. I think I can say with a high degree of certainty that you and 99.99 percent of other people would guess that Company A was Google and Company B was Microsoft. But, of course, it is actually the other way around, with Microsoft Bing being the surprisingly good new product and Chrome OS the announcement about a product that no one has seen yet.

Of course, this leads to an important question: Would it be a good thing if Google was more like Microsoft and Microsoft was more like Google?

I think it would be a good thing if Microsoft adopted more of Google's style and product innovation. The announcement and release of Bing has to be one of the most successful new product launches that Microsoft has had in years, and a big part of that was the surprise element of it.

A typical Microsoft product release has been pre-announced (FUD), seen multiple betas and RCs, and basically picked apart to death by the time most people see it. In this environment, the cards are stacked against all but the best products actually succeeding and gaining lots of public interest.

Conversely, the release of Bing took everyone by surprise, and since people were forced to look at it fresh, they came away impressed by how good Bing actually was. In many ways, this is the exact same thing Google did with its release of the Chrome Web browser.

While it is less clear that Google needs to be like Microsoft, and I really don't think FUD is the best place to start, there are definitely some lessons that Google can learn from the software giant. This is especially true in the enterprise space, where surprises are less welcome and stability is prized.

So, yes, Microsoft could definitely use more of the risk-taking, throw-things-out-there-to-see-if-they-work attitude of Google. And Google could stand to be more like Microsoft and pay more attention to the needs of business.

In my opinion, nearly all large companies in a market eventually start to look like each other, and I think we'll see more examples of Microsoft and Google acting alike. But I don't think we'll need to start calling them Googsoft or Microogle any time soon.

Chief Technology Analyst Jim Rapoza can be reached at [email protected]