Free? Google, Microsoft 'bait and switch' small biz tactics

The best things in life are free? The small business strategies of arch rivals Microsoft and Google put forth an alluring “free
Written by Donna Bogatin, Contributor
The best things in life are free? 

A French saying suggests otherwise: “On peut vivre d’amour et d’eau fraiche.” Translation? “All you need is love and fresh water.”

I had the pleasure of studying and working in France for four years and I often countered the French expression with: “Mais, il faut acheter d’eau en France!” Translation? “But, you have to buy water in France!


Moral of the story: love may not cost money, but bottled Evian does!

The small business strategies of arch rivals Microsoft and Google also put forth an alluring “free” appeal, but may ultimately yield a similar financial disillusionment.


In “Done Deal: Google partners with Intuit QuickBooks for $120 billion SME ad spend” and “Google QuickBooks 2007: Death of Yellow Pages, local newspapers?”I discuss Google’s rationale for partnering with Intuit to target the QuickBooks small business user base and liken Google’s claims of “free” marketing for small businesses to a “bait and switch” scheme: 

Google “free” business listings services and Google Base listings are merely vehicles for Google to obtain SME content, cost free, with the goal of selling the content owners AdWords. 

Google touts “Starting with $50 in Google AdWords credits, QuickBooks users can use AdWords to advertise themselves online.” 

I put forth:

Contrary to Schmidt’s beliefs, savvy small businesses are not waiting impatiently for Google to give them a turnkey icon on their desktop so they can get sucked into the Google-centric AdWords raise your bid continuously auction scheme.

How about the Microsoft “free” for small businesses pitch (see “Microsoft to Google: It’s our small business cloud”)?

Lita Epstein put Microsoft’s Office Accounting Express 2007 to the “free” test:

After downloading, the first screen you get after registering is a screen recommending that you upgrade to the paid version. You're not even given a chance to try out the free stuff first. Not a surprise for Microsoft. I think it makes good business sense to give the user an introduction to the free stuff before asking them to buy something…

As I played with package, I got numerous reminders about upgrading to the professional version, so I can see that free really isn't free. You'll probably get annoyed with all the reminder screens and give up pretty quickly. I did. That's why I only spent about 15 minutes exploring the software and then realized I rather spend the $90 on QuickBooks Simple Start than use this one for free.

Free? Small business life in the Microsoft and Google clouds may end up being as costly as fresh water in France.

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