Opinion: Redmond Yawns at Apple-Google Alliance

By CIOinsight  |  Posted 09-05-2006

These are exciting times for Microsoft Haters. Google is growing in strength, serving up online ads by the bucket, even making headway in the corporate software market. And Apple is back from near oblivion, dominating the online music business and dotting the planet with lily-white iPods. Microsoft's two fiercest rivals are stronger than ever.

And now we learn that they are joining forces? O happy day. The end of oppression must be near.

Normally, news of a board appointment causes nary a ripple in the business pages. But when Google CEO Eric Schmidt was appointed to the board of directors of Apple, the press went bananas. And why not? I mean, Schmidt and Jobs working together to bring down the Evil Empire? Could there be a juicier story in Silicon Valley?

Well, yeah, there could be. The truth is, Apple and Google are already plenty tight. Arthur Levinson, CEO of Genentech, has been on both boards for years. And former Vice President Al Gore and Intuit Chairman Bill Campbell are both Apple board members and both advisors to Google. You'd think these Silicon Valley types would want to branch out a little bit. But they don't.

And while it's fun to speculate about what an Apple-Google alliance could produce (GoogleMacs? MacGoogle? GoogleTunes?) this move is far from an alliance. And even if it were, it wouldn't be first time that two upstart powerhouses have joined forces in an attempt to unseat Microsoft. Remember AOL-Netscape? Boy, they just steamrolled the team from Redmond, didn't they?

To me the most telling quote of the many that have been offered since the news of Schmidt's appointment hit is one from Steve Jobs himself. Earlier this month, he delivered another of his trademark swipes at his enemy to the north, noting that Microsoft spends $5 billion a year on research and development, "yet these days all they seem to be able to do is try to copy Google and Apple."

Well, duh. That's the business model in Redmond. You'd think if anyone would have figured that out by now, it'd be Jobs. How does he think Gates built the company in the first place? They copy you, Steve. That's what they do. And they're really good at it. True, it makes you wonder what Microsoft's spending the $5 billion on (corporate espionage perhaps?) But Microsoft has always let others do the research and development for it. It just plays catch-up, retains a small country's worth of international lawyers and lets the chips fall where they may.

That's why you don't see beads of sweat running down Steve Ballmer's brow. Well, at least not more than usual. Because Microsoft has been here before. And so has Jobs.

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