Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Google vs. Microsoft

Pick an industry, any industry, and you'll find two or more rival companies going at it. Pepsi vs. Coke. X-box vs. Playstation. McDonalds vs. Burger King. The common theme here is that all these competitions are offering the same service; however, as of late there's been a new rivalry: Google vs. Microsoft. Now, Google is mostly known for its eponymous search engine, arguably THE most popular search engine worldwide, while Microsoft rose to prominence with its Windows operating system. However, they've both began branching out into alternate realms of the digital world, and as two of, if not the, biggest companies, they've begun clashing head-on.

In June of 2009, Microsoft launched Bing, a search engine that features an extensive ad campaign implying that Google's search results were often nonsensical and related to the original query by mere tangent. Now as a long time Google user I've never found this to be a problem, especially with the application of Boolean operators that take less than two seconds to learn. This seemed to be the general consensus in class; Brian even went as far as claiming that he's had more problems of that nature with Bing. Personally, after a few brief test searches I wasn't too distracted by any irrelevant results, although I will say that Google usually had what I was looking for a result or two before Bing displayed it. So while we disagree on the severity, it's pretty much agreed all around that Google is the superior search engine. But even if they were equally matched, I'd still say Microsoft was fighting a losing battle by entering the search engine world. People are a creature of habit, and after using Google for years, it's going to take something special to make them jump ship. Sure, at first, curiosity brought browsers in, but curiosity wears off quickly. The sudden spike Bing enjoyed right after launch was already on the decline by September.* Even aesthetically, I find Google's simplicity much more refreshing than Bing's daily detailed background image.

Now much more involved, but just as futile in my opinion, is the upcoming release of Chrome, Google's operating system currently slated for a late 2010 release. Notice it's sharing it's name with the browser Google released in 2008. That's no accident, as the two are going to be closely linked; in fact, the current plan is to take the user interface off of the desktop and move it to the web. I was talking to my friend Mike about this, and being a computer science major, he's definitely more computer savvy than I am. Basically, he has no idea how they can go about making that system work. In fact, he was very adamant that it probably couldn't, and was kind enough to break it down for me. In order to run your computer, every thing you do would be inputted not into your computer, but directly into the internet, where Google would receive it, translate it using a collection of computers, and send it back to your computer. First of all, there's a five page paper of privacy problems with this system, but let's ignore that for now. That system is inherently, and needlessly, slower than hell. Why go through the internet and back again to perform an operation that could be done directly on the computer? Even with Google's proposed WiFi 2.0** (which uses all the white space Google purchased after television dropped their analog signal) easing the congestion of bandwidth, Google's server would be hard pressed to handle the load of every single Chrome user at once. And if they can't handle it and the server crashes, suddenly there's a large collection of users who can't log on to their computers. Its hard to keep customers happy when something like that happens. Plus, Chrome isn't going to get the curiosity traffic that Bing received. Switching operating systems in and out is, technically speaking, a royal pain the ass, and most casual computer users wouldn't even know where to start with that. The more savvy users are going to take one look at that system, roll their eyes, and go on about their day on Linux. That leaves the middle ground, e.g. me. I can change an operating system if I wanted to, but I'm not good enough to look at their system and understand the technical jargon and it's ramifications. So what are the chances of me giving Chrome a shot? Somewhere between none and zero; just because I CAN switch over and don't know that I shouldn't, doesn't mean I'm in any way motivated to. It's going to take a lot of incentive to get me to take the four to five plus hours out of my day to fire it up just to take it on a test drive. Especially knowing that if I don't like it, I'm just going to have to start all over again reinstalling Windows. I'm predicting Chrome is going to crash, and hard.

It's going to be interesting to see how this competition between digital giants plays out. For all intents and purposes, it's a war with no battleground, and I don't see either one gaining a proper foothold in the other's playground anytime soon.


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