Around here (near Charlotte, NC), Google is nearly always portrayed as the Noble Innovator, constantly coming up with new ideas that make Life Easier for the Rest of Us. In just the last few months, they’ve come out with Picasa, a handy way to organize your photos, Google Desktop for finding critical files on your computer, and even Google Blog Search. Google is Good for you, the popular press seems to say. It’s the search engine with the mostest, the most-important app you couldn’t live with out. Heck, Apple’s built it right into my Web browser!
But (in case you haven’t noticed) I was in Seattle last week, and I was surprised to see a very different depiction of Google. I suppose I shouldn’t have been — after all, this is Microsoft country — but don’t people in Seattle use Google? What do they use instead, MSN? I’m not making fun of MSN here — it’s actually a pretty good search tool, but it’s a little weird to realize that there must be pockets of civilization that don’t have a part of Google engrained in their daily life. In Seattle newspapers, an innovation like Google Print might be reported on as a new threat to copyright holders, whereas everywhere else, it’s a boon to scholars and book-lovers.
I guess if Microsoft has you in its sights, it’s probably a sign that you’ve made it (kinda like when you start worrying about piracy). Think about Apple. A few years ago, Microsoft helped prop Apple up so it could argue that it wasn’t a monopoly (“See! A few geeks and metrosexuals use these other computers, so don’t worry about what we’re shoving down everyone’s throats over at Wal-Mart…”). Now Apple’s got a hit with the iPod, and all the sudden Microsoft is talking about how Apple’s this big monopoly, cornering the music market. Well done, Apple! (Not that Microsoft doesn’t have a point, but still, let’s please not go tossing boulders around our dainty little Chihuly glass house, Mr. Gates.)
It does make you wonder if Google isn’t the 21st-century version of Microsoft in the 1980s. It seemed like every time you turned around back then, Microsoft was coming out with a new product that you couldn’t do without. Remember when Lotus 1-2-3 was the spreadsheet of choice? When every self-respecting secretary typed her memos using WordPerfect? When dBase was king of databases? Here’s this dinky company in Redmond, taking on the Big Boys with cute little apps called Word, Excel, and Access. What an innovator, we all thought — it’s all so much easier to use than those arcane old programs. Now Google’s doing the same sort of thing, coming out with new must-have applications so fast that we forget nobody had ever heard of them just a few years ago. Even my 2001 edition of Researching Online barely gives it a mention (anyone still use AltaVista?).
For Microsoft (and maybe even Apple), this makes Google Enemy Number One. I wonder how long it’ll take for the rest of us to think that way, too.