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Microsoft and rival Google have come to represent polar opposites in this debate over how to handle employees who want more say over their office technology.
Google has targeted individual business users by appealing directly to their frustrated consumer impulses.
But Yahoo's similarities to Google in terms of Web delivery, consumer focus and use of open standards technology could speed Microsoft's own belated moves in this direction if it can succeed in acquiring Yahoo and keep its loyal audience.
Beyond Search and Advertising
Microsoft has mainly justified its unsolicited offer for Yahoo as the fastest way to make it a formidable rival to Google in Web search and advertising. The software giant downplays any imminent threat by Web services to its business.
Ray Ozzie, who has taken over as chief software architect from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, told a conference of Internet developers in Las Vegas this week that the Web is at the center of everything Microsoft is doing.
"All applications, ours and yours, will incorporate the group-forming aspects of the Web," Ozzie said. "Linking, sharing, ranking, tagging on the Web will become as familiar to us as file, edit and view on the PC," he said.
The merger with Yahoo would provide Microsoft "creative people and interesting online properties," he said.
The Google approach is exemplified by Dave Girouard, the general manager of Google's Enterprise division, which sells Web services to businesses, schools and government agencies.
In a recent interview about a new Web site publishing tool for teams of business users, Girouard said Google's strategy was to get IT technicians out of the way whenever feasible.
"The idea of this product is that IT (technicians) don't have to do anything except enable the users to serve themselves," Girouard said.
The focus on individual users rather than on technical administrators is an idea handed down from its two 34-year-old co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the executive said.
"Sergey and Larry... don't see the hard boundary between the consumer and business that most of us would see," Girouard says. "They just think the user is the user is the user and they want to make things better for users."