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.


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.


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.

40 thoughts on “Microsoft passes the “choice” bludgeon against Apple to Google

  1. I wouldn’t call Google evil. They’re a business and like every business they are here to make money. They’ve also given us a vast information network that we use everyday…so evil no, smart business…yes.

  2. People need to take note that it is not the iPhone, but Android that is destroying Palm today. The effect of such “choice” is stifling competition and killing any potential innovation from smaller players, the same way IE killed Netscape. Calling Apple “un-open” is just a way to distract the public and government from looking at the real monopoly play.

    • “People need to take note that it is not the iPhone, but Android that is destroying Palm today”

      You say that because they compete on the same network?

    • I think they competed for the same 3rd spot in the smartphone market behind Apple and RIM. In hindsight Sprint may not have offered the exclusivity protection Palm sought. If the Pre had been popular enough Palm might have licensed WebOS or made a successful move to Verizon. Now every anti-Apple manufacturer is on the Android bandwagon, what handset maker will pay for a phone OS? Sprint already has the Hero, now the Nexus One is going there too, while Verizon is practically giving the Pre away.

      RIM already won the competition with Palm even before the iPhone came out. Then Apple’s success really blind-sided Palm and hindered their comeback, but Google cut off all remaining plays and went for the jugular.

    • You may find this video interview with Jon Rubinstein a few months after the intro of Pre rather interesting. Some bits about his Apple days and, obviously, delusional prospects of his creation.

  3. What is most galling thing about Google
    is that they are using WebKit and LLVM
    than have the balls to attack Apple about
    open source.
    I see google using open source
    not actually leading it.

  4. With programs like BootCamp or Parallels, modern Macs can run a wide range of Windows software. So far as I know, Windows cannot run any Mac software. Yet the Mac is limited? Sorry, Barry, that’s far from the case. With respect to the handheld computer known as iPhone, yes, there is an approval process, and I sympathize with developers who hit snags. Yet that is just a part of the cost of doing business. Apple does think different, and the effects are amazing. Or have you not noticed all the new crop of smart phones with a smooth glass face and virtual keyboards? Or do you contend that all these other cell phone manufacturers are lured by “the same coffee-shop ideal of “coolness””?

  5. Another great article. The only comment I have is that the comments kind of suck. Pleases consider deleting long posts like “Barry’s” given that he appears to misread this article, and clearly hasn’t read any of your others.

  6. Well stated, Kontra. And good job of framing the post as evidence of a solidifying trend. Looks like some readers missed that, but oh well.

  7. Freedom to create chaos (Google)? or being closed in order to prevent disorder and anarchy (Apple)? If you ask which I would prefer, I would choose the 2nd choice one million times over the 1st choice.

    If you have a family would you allow anybody to enter into your house and made free of everything that you own? Would you allow a rapist free access into your home to rape your wife or daughter? Would you allow a trigger-happy ruffian into your garden to shoot your dog or cat? If you think so then you must be nuts and a liability to society.

    Similarly, applying the same principles to the integrity of a country, no country on earth even for the so-called “land of the free”, the USA can have total freedom without limitations. If the USA were to have the Google-inspired “freedom” then there would be no government, no Congress, no courts, no police, no army and no laws. Everybody would have the freedom to do whatever he wants and naturally the strong, powerful and the rich would have a free ride on everything. Google wants to have this freedom so that it can butcher every competitor, steal their IPs and copy their products and take over their market share. Then it pretends to offer free trinkets to seduce the gullible followers while spying and amass every information on everyone. This tactic was employed by the fascist German Nazis state and Communist Russia to fool the masses and to finally enslave them. And do you know who were the advocates and avid admirers of this evil scheme: the intellectuals of the Western democracies (the same manner the geeks for Google are behaving).

    So which platform is more compatible from a civilized state point of view: Google or Apple? To me, the Google platform is a sinister outfit which would eventually lead to anarchy and a whole bag of hurts.

    • Taking this comparison to the national level is a bit of a stretch, but as you did so:

      You can compare a centralized, authoritative, homogeneous system (France with its monarchy and roman code law system) with a decentralized, participative, diverse framework (The British/Anglo-saxon/American kind with its common law, grassroots organization and parlamentary system)… who the winner was is pretty clear at this point.

  8. Is it me, or do most Apple critics still cannot criticize the actual merit of the product as valued by the owner/purchaser? Instead they have to go into personal attacks using the typical cliches and stereotypes?

    I’m still waiting for Google to open source their search technology, system designs, and ad algorithms. Anyone care to predict when that will happen?
    Wouldn’t open sourcing it make it better and benefit the society, and give poople more CHOICES of different search engines offered by different companies?

    I’m curious, if all the industries operated like the tech industry, where a cartel controlled over 90% of the supply of core, essential product, not just the plastic shell and window dressing, would that make the anti-Apple people happier? You can buy any car, as long as 65% of all engines are made by Google (proprietary by the way), 90% of all onboard software made by MSFT, 90% of all drive train were made by Intel, and 90% of all brakes came from Toyota, Would that be the CHOICE you like better than the market we have now?

    • Incredibly, in its now infamous whitewash memo The meaning of open Google did in fact say:

      Our goal is to keep the Internet open, which promotes choice and competition and keeps users and developers from getting locked in. In many cases, most notably our search and ads products, opening up the code would not contribute to these goals and would actually hurt users.

      Yes, they actually said that with a straight face. The worse part is that Google thought users (and obviously Google-naive technorati and open-source zealots) would be dumb enough not to see through it.

    • “Google thought …Google-naive technorati and open-source zealots.. would be dumb enough not to see through it.”

      Some of them ARE that dumb.

      And– I don’t understand it– but some people just have a bug up their butts about Apple. A personal distaste. I don’t get it; perhaps these are mostly MCSE’s and the like, concerned that a better computing experience would cost them business, or, at least, would require them to re-train somewhat.

  9. I used Chrome the browser for about a month, then decided not to bother… I could only export bookmarks via Google docs and even then it didn’t honour the HTML – everything was in alphabetical order.

    I have a gmail account but no reason for google docs, they can take my books marks and try and generate some cash from them,

    Basically a poor attempt at ‘lock in’ or ‘buy in’

    no more chrome for this boy

  10. @Warren: the problem with that sort of “skewering” is — how do I put this gently — that it’s damn stupid. It pretends that iPhones are far more limited than they are, and then goes onto to pretend that Macs are virtually identical to iPhones. Everyone’s iPhone is able to do just the same small set of limited things, and everyone’s Mac is able to do just the same small set of limited things. Thus all Apple buyers — since you’ve “proven” that we couldn’t possibly have made an informed, rational choice based on the capabilities of Macs and iPhones — are motivated by frivolous and irrational factors.

  11. We don’t need more choice in mediocrity!!

    What we need is more companies like Apple, companies that are truly innovative while focusing on excellent end-user experiences.

    Let such companies compete and the result will be much better than competition within the so-called open systems that simply reflect the status quo.

  12. Another great article Kontra, thanks a mil.
    The only money generating thing(s) that Google has been successful with is search and their ads nothing else. They are going to fail with Android. They haven’t released a single phone that competes with iPhone on sales, years after they started. For the Droid to look a little respectable they have to compare it to a 2007 iPhone. That is how pathetic they are. The Android/Microsoft apologists like the PC story but the irony is that the last chapter has not been written. Apple is redefining the category again with the iPad, we will see how computers look like in 10 years and whether the Windows monopoly will still be there on not. Its good that Google is pissing off Apple, God knows we need a better search. Googles approach is old and unimaginative. And I cannot bring myself into using Bing. Apple is going to very soon deliver ads better than Google and in the process eat Googles’ lunch.

  13. To be fair, Bray was also one of the minds behind Atom and the Atom Publishing Protocol while he was at Sun, which figured to end the RSS wars.

  14. I think Barry skewered the Apple “think different” mentality:

    Thinking different really means, hey everybody, please buy our one-size-fits-all imac, iphone, and ipad, they fit your UNIQUE digital iLifestyle perfectly, just like they fit EVERYBODY else, and if your product doesn’t do X, then you don’t need X, so here, look at these shiny buttons, click them, drink your $7.00 starbucks latte, dress like Justin Long does in our commercials, and feel happy.

    After you have bought the three big products we sell, we’d like you to send $0.99 to $5.99 transactions our way, five to twenty times a day. And please, tell all your friends.


    • Yeah, right. You’re not aware, apparently, that Apple makes Mac Pro, iMacs, MacBook Pros, MacBooks and iPads. And that’s not even iPods, TV, wireless base stations (that are top sellers to even non-Apple users) etc.

      Nine out of 10 Oscar contenders for documentaries (and lots of mainstream movies) were done on Apple’s software. Quicktime is ubiquitous. Webkit is used in lots of Linux and Windows web browsers, and it’s open source and wouldn’t be nearly as good as it is without Apple’s input.

      The list goes on and on to make what you’re saying about Apple is patently false. But that never stopped the astroturfers and trolls who seem to think their open source software is some kind of holy grail. And anyone who does not accept their orthodoxy is duped by the big bad evil company Apple.

      Get a reality adjustment dude. You’re is really twisted.

  15. Perfidy, perfidy…. all is perfidy.
    Kill Google Analytics now before the government takes a slice for state control.

    Well put Kontra, but the world is sleepwalking again.

  16. @ Barry,

    “… it’s the micro-managing, absolutist, totalitarian and unjust way they operate in various ecosystems. Apple enjoys attracting people with pretty candy, then fencing them in with razor wire, and manipulating them into doing Apple’s bidding by blessing One True Way to do a variety of things.”

    “Unjust?” What are you, a Communist/Anti-Capitalist??? (Probably)

    You act like the average iPhone user wants to be a geek. They don’t. They enjoy their iPhone overwhelmingly in poll after poll. It’s YOU who has a problem with Apple. You think having a system in place that allows great structure (it just works/synchs), great diversity in apps (140K) and great connectivity to updates/synching (iTunes) is a bad thing. You can rant all you want. But millions of people (and growing) have zero interest in what you believe. To each his own, but to think multiple Google OSes running on multiple devices is the future for the vast majority of people is dead wrong. You may detest the iPhone but it certainly speaks volumes about the product and ecosphere when millions of average everyday people continue to vote with their dollars and choose the iPhone, and are wowed by its simplicity. Their is no simplicity with Google outside of search.

    How about them Apples?

  17. The braying of, well, Mr. Bray is annoying. Representing a huge, multinational advertising company, Google, he rails on about a company that makes excellent products that people actually enjoy. And, last I checked, Apple was shipping the iPhone with a web browser that one can use to go anywhere on the web. Life is short. Apple makes products that enrich, empower, and, simultaneously, simplify peoples lives. MSFT, HP, Lenovo, Acer, Dell– do not. Google, admittedly, does search very, very well. But they have shown no leadership role in mobile OS design, or desktop OD design, and these pointless goose chases distract the company, to nobody’s benefit.

  18. And in other news, totalitarian states have lower crime, but people still prefer freedom.

    The PC won. Android will similarly win. This has all happened before.

    • The PC won because Microsoft blatantly copied Apple’s Mac OS, which is based on the Xerox license Apple purchased.

      Apple sued, but lost the suit because they had naively granted Microsoft a license without a non-compete clause.

      It was a perfect storm of naivete on Apple’s part, cheap hardware, demand, and greed on Microsoft’s part: that won’t happen again.

      Google will have to either pay fair market rates to license Apple’s patents or re-write the GUI to avoid them.

      Remember, Google only switched on the Multi-Touch features Feb 4th, they can switch them off again while rewriting their code.

      I suspect their strategy IS to repeat what M$ did; make profits while fighting it out in court and trying to sway public opinion.

    • That was, the paradigm is different this time round.

      In a years’s time we will know who gets to eat crow.

  19. Hypocrisy has started already.

    Wall Street Journal reports:

    Mr. Bray noted that he doesn’t intend for Google to vet anything on his blog before it publishes. However, he also wrote that Google saw an advanced draft of his post about Apple and the iPhone, “but didn’t suggest any changes.”

    Some “personal” blog indeed! Astroturf.

  20. This I wrote in January 2008, after a session in the World Economic Forum (The future of Mobile Technology), attended by Eric Schmidt:

    “… the content providers don’t have the technology to distribute their content, except for in the traditional way, which means Movie theaters and DVDs; the Infrastructure providers don’t have the Services, the content nor the vision to make it happen; and the Service Providers (like Google), don’t have the technology or platforms to launch their ad based services on a broad basis. Google needs a unified platform to carry adds and mobile content over the internet, and the interoperability problems prevents them from doing that.”

    I guess we see the results from that session now. (The session was taped, but I can’t find it now).

    • Yes, it’d be great if everyone used Google search, YouTube, AdSense, Google Checkout, GMail, Android, Chrome OS, Chrome browser and the rest of it. :)

      It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find differences between Microsoft’s and Google’s pervasive ambition to spread into every crevice of the computing and media landscape.

    • The difference is that the client software in Google’s case really is open to a completely different degree.

      I’d rank the companies thusly: Google, MS, Apple.

      Apple is clearly and blatantly evil. One of the worst things that could ever have happened would be for Apple to gain an ascendancy in desktop computing; gladly, it didn’t happen. It’s not even the Disneyification, it’s the micro-managing, absolutist, totalitarian and unjust way they operate in various ecosystems. Apple enjoys attracting people with pretty candy, then fencing them in with razor wire, and manipulating them into doing Apple’s bidding by blessing One True Way to do a variety of things. The irony of “Think Different” is that Appleites all think the same: the same notion of “style”, the same coffee-shop ideal of “coolness”, the same anti-corporation vibe of buying all their hardware, software and media from a single corporate store.

      MS is a shrinkwrap software company, and everything they do is warped by the strategic tax that imposes. But as a platform vendor, they are par excellence; not from MS will you get the inanities of Linux, where kernel-level ABIs change at the drop of a hat, and the preferred sound subsystem changes like the weather. Instead, they manipulate their existing monopolies to try and lever into newer business areas, and they heavily emphasize cross-integration, so even when they’re giving something away, it’s because it works best with some $$$ piece of server software. They’re all about the licenses.

      Google is different because they sell people, not software. They’re insidious to the degree that they abuse the control they have over people’s data, but nothing would be more threatening to their survival than breaking that trust, so it’s unlikely to be irreparably broken until they’re desperate. So Google creates and subsidizes products in order to attract people, whom it sells to advertisers. But it’s a good thing that Apple exists for them to compete against, otherwise they might be tempted – might – to look into razor wire purchases.

    • ” Instead, they manipulate their existing monopolies to try and lever into newer business areas”

      Well, Barry, that’s the only thing you wrote that’s actually true.

      Odd that you approve of Microsoft’s “embrace and extinguish” tactics but find Apple’s quality control measures “clearly and blatantly evil”.

    • Last I checked, I didn’t see Apple holding guns to people’s heads making them buy their products. And no doubt that’s what galls Barry and his ilk most of all. Superior products, that are plenty open for most people’s purposes, and nobody is forced to buy them.

      Yeah, that’s evil. Right. I think George Orwell had a term for that kind of saying the opposite of what is real.

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