Microsoft passes the “choice” bludgeon against Apple to Google

One day, two unrelated events and a solidifying trend.

Yesterday, Tim Bray (Canadian software developer and entrepreneur, one of the editors of the XML specifications and a long time Sun employee) announced that he joined Google as a “Developer Advocate” working on Android.

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The old misdirection

In and of itself, this wasn’t much news, coming from someone who hasn’t done much outside of his duties at Sun over the last half decade to warrant such a triumphalist announcement. But he has a new job as a mouthpiece of the Google machine, the search and advertising monopolist-in-the-making, and he started it in the old-fashioned way by attacking the industry leader, Apple:

The iPhone vision of the mobile Internet’s future omits controversy, sex, and freedom, but includes strict limits on who can know what and who can say what. It’s a sterile Disney-fied walled garden surrounded by sharp-toothed lawyers. The people who create the apps serve at the landlord’s pleasure and fear his anger.

I hate it.

He then took his self-designated mission to a loftier perch, assuming guardianship of WWW:

The big thing about the Web isn’t the technology, it’s that it’s the first-ever platform without a vendor…It’s the only kind of platform I want to help build.

The “Web” may not have a vendor, but his mission, Android, is certainly driven by Google. Without Google’s resources and corporate ambitions Android would have been just another languishing Java/Linux based mobile platform by now.

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Google has declared itself as the champion of the “open web” while maintaining a moat around its cashcows, search and advertising, which it guards in the most un-open way possible. Google funnels billions from its proprietary and closed businesses into a systematic effort to commoditize myriad industries with free products to lure users into its perfectly commercial sphere of personal-data-for-advertising-dollars exchange. That Google has been able to persuade the technorati to swallow this under the glow of ‘open web’ is all the more remarkable.

Tyranny of choice

The bludgeon Google uses against Apple is a familiar one: choice. And we have seen this movie before. In fact, over and over again in reruns for nearly two decades. It came from another monopolist, Microsoft. Just as it’s now with Android, it was then “One OS, many hardware manufacturers.” That is, you could build and sell anything as long as you acquiesced to be married to Win32 APIs and other proprietary Microsoft technologies.

This strategy did work to expand the PC market around the world. So well that today the largest of Microsoft “choice” partners like HP, Dell, HTC and Motorola are falling all over themselves looking for alternatives to the Wintel empire of the last two decades. Yes, using this strategy, Microsoft has become fabulously profitable, but only by commoditizing the business of its “choice” partners into ever thinner margins.

At the start of the iPod/iTunes ascendancy, Microsoft executives and “advocates” bitterly attacked Apple for not “opening up” its digital media ecosystem to competing interests, incredulously insisting that Apple should also offer various proprietary Windows formats! This from a company that shafted its own partners by killing the laughably named PlaysForSure media format to introduce its own non-licensed, proprietary Zune system. Apparently, “open” platforms are wonderful as long as they help fuel the platform originator’s proprietary cashcows. Windows then, Android now. That the latter is open source may be technically interesting but strategically insignificant.

Microsoft takes a fork

For two decades, consumers suffered endless and unnecessary complexity, inelegant and shoddily made hardware, a parade of slowly evolving, convoluted operating systems, untold hours and billions wasted on insecure platforms…ultimately, a colossal loss of positive engagement and aesthetics. Users were forced to be afraid of their own computers.

Microsoft has itself ultimately recognized the failure of this strategy, as we have repeatedly pointed out over the last two years. In the competitive consumer markets, where consumers bought their own computers and devices without the stifling IT filter, the enforced separation of operating system, applications, hardware and services has been shown to produce consumer-hostile results.

So also yesterday Charlie Kindel, head of Microsoft’s Windows Phone developer strategy, has unveiled his company’s Windows Phone 7 Series direction:

Apps that run arbitrarily in the background create an end user experience where battery life and responsiveness of the system becomes … inconsistent.

We focused on getting a set of experiences right where we didn’t have to support [multitasking,] but we will over time.

We are revamping a lot of the marketplace policies, [and] we have a real desire to make sure that for developers, getting started is cheap and easy.

No ‘multitasking’, no user-changeable memory cards, limited VOIP, no background telephony for 3rd parties, one-way control of the Windows Phone Marketplace, and so on. A virtual clone of the “closed” iPhone platform.

A battle refought

Consumers (a market much larger than the enterprise enclave) want devices that are easy to learn, joy to use, consistent, dependable, all without having to be excessively managed. As the Wintel episode illustrates, we have no evidence that this can be achieved through the now-defunct “One OS, many hardware manufacturers” strategy. On the contrary, Apple, RIM, Palm and even Microsoft with Xbox have already demonstrated the benefits of hardware+software+services integration.

With little technology packaging, consumer market understanding or design competency, Google has decided to make a mad dash to old Microsoftdom by raising the ‘choice’ flag against the guardian of integration – most likely because that’s what it all knows. Just like Microsoft. Unfortunately, we have already seen this movie: caveat emptor.