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What DID Google Learn From Microsoft?

Posted by: Andrew Langer on Thursday, September 22, 2011 at 12:00:00 am

Yesterday, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) spent a considerable amount of time delving deeply into Google’s operations.  Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt said that the company has “learned the Microsoft lesson,” but one wonders which lesson Schmidt was referring to?

You see, this isn’t the first time that Google and Microsoft have butted heads—in fact, what Sen. Lee is unraveling is that Google is learning from its years of experience trying to topple Microsoft from its hard-earned place as “king of the mountain”.

It would be one thing if Schmidt were one of Google’s founders—one of the entrepreneurs who had turned a simple dream into a marketplace juggernaut (like so many other tech companies, Microsoft and Apple included).  While Schmidt has a long history in the world of corporate high-tech, he also has a history of using government power to the advantage of his employers, and to the detriment of his competitors—he was one of the men feeding information to the Clinton-era Justice Department that eventually led to the Federal Government filing suit against Microsoft! 

You read that correctly—while Schmidt was working for Sun Microsystems and Novell, two of Microsoft’s most-earnest competitors, he was trying to convince the Feds that they ought to investigate Microsoft, actions which would cost that company billions and could serve to immeasurably benefit Sun and Novell.

So while Schmidt claims that Google has learned the “antitrust lessons” of Microsoft’s well-earned rise to prominence, it begs the question:  is he talking about side-stepping the landmines of what some might consider to be monopolistic behavior?  Or is he talking about learning from his own tactical errors during his decade of leadership at Google?

Make no mistake about it—Schmidt’s envy of Microsoft is well-placed.  He wants to build a venture that ultimately supplants it.  He has wanted to do so since before his days at Google.  But by steering Google today, he has built a tool powerful enough to do so.   Google can undercut Microsoft by offering freebies that go after their business model: from office software to information access.

Sure, Schmidt learned the lessons from Microsoft’s antitrust battle.  Because he was one of the forces behind it.

One of the best things about the new climate in Washington is that people really understand the importance of transparency.  When it comes to Google's work at trying to topple Microsoft, such sunshine is sorely needed, and we ought to be applauding folks like Sen. Lee for taking on this unenviable task!


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