Why Google isn't the next Microsoft

Everyone seems to be piling on Google these days for being too big, too powerful. But Business 2.0's Chris Taylor makes the case for why the dominant Internet search giant will never be evil.

By Chris Taylor, Business 2.0 Magazine senior editor

(Business 2.0 Magazine) -- At the Googleplex in Mountain View, in one of the foyers of the ever-growing number of new buildings, you'll find a giant whiteboard with the heading "Google's Master Plan."

Here, the company's 12,000-and-counting employees can write collaborative suggestions for world domination, such as creating an "interplanetary Internet," establishing "orbital mind control" and even eliminating "all stairs." There's no reason to think the company takes any of these ideas seriously: when the board is full of world domination plans, it gets wiped.

The whimsy of founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin is one reason why Google will never be like Microsoft.

This kind of whimsy is deep in Google's DNA. Google's gurus truly believe in following your most geeky passion of the moment, whatever that may be. Co-founder Larry Page's idea of focusing the company's efforts is to administer a list of the top 100 projects it will devote resources to.

Google knows that it has a corporate form of Attention Deficit Disorder, and it doesn't care. With 31 percent of all U.S. online ad revenue, it can afford to be sanguine.

Which is why a recent rash of stories suggesting that Google (Charts) is to the 2000s what Microsoft (Charts) was to the 1990s have a whiff of ridiculousness to them.

BusinessWeek had a cover story this month titled "Is Google Too Powerful?" while George Dyson, the technology author and Pentagon consultant, produced a flurry of press interest recently when he suggested that Google's concentration of information might soon be thought of as a matter of national security.

Meanwhile, the Google Watch blog, a central clearing house for all forms of Google conspiracy, has a picture of Page and fellow co-founder Sergey Brin next to a photo of Bill Gates at the same age. The caption: "World Domination Again."

Sure, by the numbers, Google is a giant. It earned $10.6 billion in revenue from eager advertisers last year. Its share of the Internet search market is now about 64 percent. With the amount of cash it has on hand, it could have bought YouTube--a $1.65 billion purchase--six times over.

But Google will never be an Evil Empire. For one thing, the company is a dwarf next to the behemoth from Redmond, which has a 95% share of the operating system market, more than six times the number of employees, and three times as much cash on hand.

Microsoft also has a history of being a monster. In the 1990s it used its market power to strong-arm competitors and allies alike. It repeatedly flouted antitrust laws, and was ultimately declared an illegal monopoly in 2000.

Next to all this, what is the worst that Google's opponents can accuse the company of? The company is facing several significant copyright battles--over its project to digitize the world's books, on the one hand, and Viacom's $1 billion suit accusing YouTube of cannibalizing its content on the other.

But these legal headaches, minor in comparison to Microsoft's, came as a result of giving consumers more choice, not less. And Viacom (Charts) is not suffering as a result of going up against the mighty Google. On the contrary, it just inked a major online ad deal with rival Yahoo (Charts), which has found its feet again by making its online ad service as simple to buy into as Google's.

Far from strong-arming competitors, Google seems happy to co-exist with them.

The two corporate cultures, also, could not be more different. Microsoft's coders had to slave away on endless rounds of bug-fixes, hitting their ship deadlines or facing the consequences. But with the Web as their distribution network, Google's engineers can afford to throw up a beta version of a website such as Google News, and tweak it as they go.

Microsoft set out to dominate each new software industry it entered by the second or third version of that software, and took Intel (Charts) leader Andy Grove's dictum--"only the paranoid survive"--to heart.

Google, having grown up with an unassailable lead in Web advertising, never had to get paranoid. Its policy seems to be more one of deliberate self-distraction, avoiding the temptations of monopoly by throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks.

Its strategy is less about the paranoid surviving than the daydreamers thriving.

If Google Docs and Spreadsheets beats Microsoft Word and Excel, it won't be because Google spent a penny in marketing it or strong-armed PC makers to include a link to the service on their desktop. It will be because the company created a simple product that works better, threw it up on the web, and let the marketplace decide.

At the end of the day, their engineers get to wipe the board clean, and move swiftly on to the next lackadaisical dream of world domination. Top of page

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