Microsoft vs Google: Birth of a new world

Microsoft's antitrust moves against Google are full of irony, but they could do the search giant, and the rest of us, the power of good
Written by Leader , Contributor

If there was an award for truth in corporate communication, Microsoft's blog post outlining today's European antitrust complaint against Google would win first place for eternity for one single line: "There, of course, will be some who will point out the irony in today's filing".

The sheer chutzpah of the complaint, which outlines various claims about Google's business practices in Europe and America, is a wonder in its own right. It follows on from similar moves in the US, where Microsoft has already chipped in to antitrust investigations into Google — and, more hilariously, decades of ferocious legal action against Microsoft by, well, just about everybody with a legislature.

For those of us who have been following Microsoft since the early 1980s, this is a moment to cherish worthy of Monty Python. It's like the Romans complaining that the Visigoths weren't following best practice in health and safety as they poured over the city walls in AD 410.

But behind the breathtaking volte-face lies a profound admission implicit in Microsoft's new stance: if it claims monopolies are bad, then Microsoft recognises it no longer has much chance of creating or maintaining one.

These overt actions by Microsoft signal that it has lost the battle to assert itself through raw market power, and it is not confident it can do so through technology. Only legislation lies between its current position and capitulation: if you want a milestone moment in the history of IT, mark today well.

What about Google?

It turns out, perhaps surprisingly, that Microsoft has a point.

There should be strong regulatory control over monopolies, and Google most certainly qualifies. Moreover, in this case the discipline will be uniquely helpful. "Don't be evil" is a splendid mantra, but there are many signs that internally, Google is chaotic and incapable of imposing any single policy — including sanctity — across its empire.

This leaves Google open to embarrassments such as the rogue code that snaffled Wi-Fi data around the world, and the Buzz privacy farrago: there will be many other infelicities in its commercial dealings that we can't see, hidden as they are behind the norms of corporate confidentiality. Such is the legitimate hunting ground of regulators.

The company should welcome and work closely with regulators, and the sooner that relationship kicks off, the more control Google will retain and the better its arguments against claims such as Microsoft's will be. And the healthier the company's internal culture will become.

Of course, this route has its own dangers, its own paths to perdition, but in many ways Google is evolving into the sort of self-funding public service that will best suit the politics and economics of the next 50 years. As an experiment in all our futures, as a new model where the rich and corporate willingly pay for the rest of us, it's hard to beat.

Microsoft's move isn't just about the transfer of power between two technology giants on which the information of the world depends.

It's much more important than that.

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