What the heck is a proxy war? And why would Microsoft not just have a regular old war-o'-competition with their number one rival? It's an interesting idea floated by Google and the Wall Street Journal this weekend in response to domestic and international antitrust actions that have people asking if Google is the new Microsoft (this link, by the way, is an interesting read and worth a few moments of your time).
ZDNet's Editor in Chief, Larry Dignan, already described Google's position on the international investigations last week:
The twist in Google’s blog post is that it’s pretty clear about how it feels about the companies complaining. Google, looking to get ahead of the news cycle, declares that Microsoft is playing a big role.
Fellow Googling Google blogger, Garett Rogers, hit the nail on the head with his aptly titled post, "The EU eyes up Google, Microsoft giggles a bit." Small domestic companies now seem to be coming out of the woodwork with antitrust complaints as well. According to the Wall Street Journal,
Seeking $335,000 in unpaid advertising bills, Google Inc. filed suit against a small Internet site in Ohio in October...Google never expected the response it got. Last month, the small Internet site countered with a 24-page antitrust lawsuit against Google, accusing the search-engine giant of a litany of monopolistic abuses.
More interestingly, though, the lawyer filing the complaint was Charles Rule, Microsoft's chief outside counsel on competition issues. As with the EU complaints, Google claims that the US complaints are being orchestrated by Microsoft. That, of course, is the proxy war I mentioned above. Microsoft, no stranger to antitrust investigations itself, can do far more to damage Google's growth, brand, and reputation by burying it in investigations and complaints from its many potential partners than it can through direct competition. Bing vs. Google? Who cares? Google Docs vs. Sharepoint? In many ways, they target different markets. And yet, Google is Microsoft's biggest threat in the tech world. Could this threat be neutralized to some extent by repeated antitrust efforts on many different fronts? Probably.
Microsoft obviously denies any role in the rash of complaints and investigations. And while they clearly have motive, it's also possible that Google's extraordinary size and success have simply made it an easy target for regulators and lawyers. We'll have to see how this shapes up, but Google may find itself forced to at least ease up on its aggressive growth models as governments begin to look more critically at the Internet giant.