Doing what it has long done best, Microsoft is -- based on its demos and presentations Tuesday -- picking up where a market innovator leaves off, and then mashing the innovation into its own mold for fun and profit. But there is more than the usual Redmondization in what Microsoft is -- so very publicly -- up to now.
By targeting small businesses with Windows- and Office-like services and juxtaposing them to contextual advertising, Microsoft diversifies its business model closer to what Google and what other software-as-a-service vendors do, but does not really dent its historic money making machines: the Windows operating system and Office suite of personal productivity applications. At least not for some time.
This is absolutely the right thing for Microsoft to do. They are moving quickly and forcefully -- and they probably never would have done it without the Google threat. Get this: It will be easier for Microsoft to morph into a business app services provider to SMBs and SOHOs, than it is going to be for Google to morph from a search engine for ads skewed to consumers into a business app services provider to SMBs and SOHOs.
Google's best hope may be to target the enterprise in insidious fashion through consumers, but the enterprise will not move fast, and the power of worker bees to force the queen to change is a major question mark. So perhaps we had better not count Microsoft out yet, and perhaps that Google stock price is looking a bit frothy.
We've known for some time that Web 2.0 will provide a Microsoft-Google face off, but now that Microsoft has actually described its move (and it may actually deliver product ... err, service, in less than six months), it's time for Google to get clarity. We still mostly have to guess on Google's actual go-to-market business services intentions. That will need to change, which may require a cultural shift at Google, as in it needs to grow up and get business-like to businesses.
Come to think of it, the real race between Microsoft and Google may boil down to which can truly change itself best and fastest. Google needs to transform into the trusted provider of business app services, and conjure for itself the image of an enterprise ready, mature, and even button-down vendor. Microsoft needs to drop the monopoly pretense and get funky on Web 2.0 services for business, as in hip and happening for productive work without the rip-off. Both of these compnaies have scads of money, but money can't buy you culture.
So what strikes me most about the live.com preview from Microsoft executives old and new is the the apparent burgeoning shift in corporate culture in Redmond could be what no anti-trust suit or user backlash could ever provoke -- a sincere change in the way the Microsoft as an organizaion -- as a culture -- thinks. If Microsoft can move beyond the thinking of zero-sum in terms of the threat to their main bread and butter, and find the balance of moving to services that re-engages a lot of circumspect users (and advertisers), then the world truly is Microsoft's oyster.