Microsoft vs. Google: Who Is The Better Choice For Developers?

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Microsoft vs. Google: Who Is The Better Choice For Developers?


I’ve been reading some very interesting posts regarding the battle between Microsoft and Google.  This is the most interesting battle I’ve seen in quite a while.
So, the question for this article is:  If you’re a startup entrepreneur (or simply working on a development project), who do you bank on?  Which platform do you choose?  I covered this topic, from a slightly different perspective, in my prior article “Mashups vs. Gnashups”.  Worth a read (in my humble opinion), if  you have not seen it yet.
I kind of think Microsoft and Google has having very different approaches to strategy when it comes to platform:
Microsoft:  Create a relatively closed platform, get it on as many devices as possible.  Make exceptional tools and documentation available at a low price to help developers.  This gets them to build applications.  Developers want to build for platforms that have the greatest reach (and can make them money).  Users want to use platforms that have the most applications.  Nice positive feedback loop.  Hence, Microsoft dominates on the desktop.  Microsoft plays a game of “make money from the millions of users” and let others make some too.
Google:  Create software that is mostly “free” for users (search, Google Maps, GMail, etc.) and subsidized by advertisers that want to reach those users.  Google plays a game of “attention” (it wants to get users attention and then monetize it).  Google, for the most part, is not out to make other software companies money (AdSense doesn’t count, its mostly for content).
Now, here’s the thing.  Outside of some of the challenges of “Google as platform” that I outlined in the prior article,  a number of questions and concerns arise for me:
  1. Is the MS strategy simply not relevant anymore in the Internet age we live in?  Is it really all about attention?  Is Microsoft’s model old and out-dated?  (Much like the old model the mainframe companies used to use, whereby the software was just there to help sell the hardware).

  1. Are more and more people spending more time (and giving “attention”) to Google’s properties than Microsoft’s?  Do you spend more time on a combination of Google Search, a browser, GMail, etc. than you do on core Windows and Office?  I’m guessing so.  If so, does this matter?  Is 30 minutes spent in Firefox browsing the web the same as 30 minutes spent in Visual Studio writing code?

  1. Is there something more going on here than whose software you give “attention” to?  Can there be more to it than taking the finite amount of attention people have to give you and “buying” it with free content and services?  Can this be more than just a “mindspace” (vs. shelfspace) game?

Here are my thoughts on the matter:  One of the reasons that Google currently works (and dominates) is that clearly there is a body of people that like things subsidized with advertising.  They’d rather have free search, free email, free calendaring, etc. in return for giving the provider some “attention”.  It works for them, and Google just monetizes the attention.  But, I’m not convinced that this is the way it will always be. 
There comes a time when “free” is not good enough and users will want to actually be paid for their attention.  Maybe that’s not such a reach for Google (they do an element of this with their AdSense program whereby they help publishers make money).  But, what if it goes beyond that?  What if users want to monetize more than just their attention?  What if they want to monetize their creativity?  What if they want to build things (like software)?  How does Google help here?  The answer, is not that much.  This is the Microsoft game.
Microsoft has gotten exceptionally good at helping other people make money.  Not giving you a free email client, but making people real money.  The lure of the Microsoft platform is that if you picked it, and built applications on it, you could (essentially) charge whatever you wanted for it based on what your market would bear.  Microsoft was not the market maker and didn’t really impact what price you could charge.  Users may have only paid $1,000 for Windows+Office – but they may pay $100,000+ for specialized software that does something useful for them. 
On the other hand, if you build a product on a set of Google APIs, there’s an inherent implication (at least in my mind), that its not going to cost a lot.  If its fun and interesting, and you make it too expensive, Google has an incentive to come build it themselves and give it away.  How do you see software developers of the world making real money on Google?  What is the impact of the fact that Google is pushing the price of software down.  Since Google seems to believe that software is incidental (just a good way to get the attention/eyeballs it wants), how should developers respond?  
I’m not sure.  I think its going to be a really interesting few years.  These are two very different companies, with exceptional resources and very talented people.  
Summary of  my point:  Software has value as it embodies the creativity and intelligence of people that want to solve problems.  Software is not “incidental” whether it comes down to helping sell hardware or attracting eyeballs/attention.  There are still too many problems left to solve (with software) and no one company can solve them all – not even Google.  This means that software developers (and software companies) will continue to be relevant, and platforms will need to help these developers create products and make money.
But, I have a biased opinion.  I could be wrong.
P.S.  For a great article on a related topic, check out “Eyeballs, Eyeballs, everywhere and not an Ad to Link” by JJ Sviokla.  In addition to being smarter than I am, he’s also a better writer.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Mon, May 01, 2006


on the topic of attention, rewarding users for giving you their attention I believe the most innovatiive approach is by the people over at

I haven't signed up for the service, but they seem to be at the cutting edge of the debate

posted on Monday, May 01, 2006 at 12:52 PM by Ed

Software has value because it solves problems, right? Not because the creators "wanted" to solve a problem.

You could say that google's game is to "entice clicking" rather than "attention". A webpage rendering lives for only a few seconds, maybe minutes. A programming/word-processing workspace lives for hours and since it's paid for, no one would put up with ads.

As far as I know, ads haven't worked for real applications so far. People are more accepting of them as long as they appear in a web browser. The expectations are lower and the there is no sense of entitlement to the screen space. People will accept them as long as they feel someone else owns the space. This means that any application whose data the users are willing to host externally can be subsidized through ads because people know they don't "own" the space, only host their data there temporarily.

This basically says that you shouldn't build applications whose data is not extremely important and private to the user - otherwise this space will eventually be covered and subsidized by whoever has the most online attention - currently google. There is little value in building desktop email/calendar/photo album/etc programs any more - unless they are interfaces to valuable and private data sources.

It can't be a good idea to try to leverage a subsidized online service as long as the value is created by whoever owns the ad-network. It's too cheap for them to replicate any service you can think of. And advertising is essentially free for them.

Amongst them, it's mostly a game of mind-share and good will - whoever is perceived as most honest, fair and competent wins.

I don't agree at all with Sviokla though. There are a few things they could bundle. What about an intelligent ad-blocker built into IE? In addition, they could abstract search so it stopped being web pages and felt more like a real application. Then people would feel stronger ownership of the screen space. I also challenge his claim that they have a "better platform". Every single service provider has done "scale out". Googles control point is not "the net", it's "attention" supported by all the people who've linked "find information" with "google" in their brains.

If spam filters are considered fair game, an ad blocker should be just as fair.

posted on Monday, May 01, 2006 at 1:28 PM by Johan

this comparison doesn't seem valid. Google doesn't give you a general developer platform, it gives access to its internals through APIs. Comparison must be made at product level, if necessary. For example, developing Outlook plugins vs using Google Calendar API.

posted on Tuesday, May 02, 2006 at 11:38 PM by nec

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