Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Hi, Google here. How's it going? That's a nice-looking desktop you've got there. Mind if I have a look around?
With increasing signs that Google is planning to challenge Microsoft for control of a large portion of the computer user's daily experience, it might be interesting to harken back to our inaugural column about the portal wars from 1999.
At that time, Google wasn't even on the radar, although it had gained some early notice as a cute new search technology.
Microsoft surely was a contender for portal supremacy, and not just because it owned MSN, but because it wanted to control pretty much everything about your daily process and workflow, as it had for what seemed like forever. We all know how that's gone. Yes, on the surface, Microsoft is still on top of the technology world. But as a result, most of us have suffered from horribly inefficient lives due to their inability to execute on promises to create new versions of their products that will fix what's broken about the daily computer experience. Whether it's Linux, or Apple, or an alternative browser, or a congenital fear of Outlook Express, the anything-but-Microsoft movement seems to be gaining steam.
Back in 1999-2000, we had high hopes here that Yahoo would be a visionary company that would perhaps make the "portable desktop" a reality. They got halfway there, and may still make it now that GMail is showing them how it's done.
So essentially it's now looking like a three-way race for deep control of user habits, with AOL increasingly looking like an also-ran fourth and Lycos hilariously but irrelevantly stepping up with their free 1GB of email storage, just for old-times', it's-fun-to-offer-more-for-less-like-it's-1999, sake. No longer is it just about a number of "media companies" battling for who has the nicest looking home page, or the most compelling fantasy football game, or, dare we say, the biggest inbox. It's about the BIG picture. Which of the major contenders here will control the agenda; which can see into the future? (Not Lycos, obviously.)
But the old boring questions about who has the best email, calendar, search, message board service, etc. really are kind of interesting. Who can knit all this stuff together properly? Yahoo can come close, but they're not quite a technology company, remember, they're a "media company." Close isn't bad -- it still means you can be a multi-billion-dollar brand.
So now it looks to some like it's shaping up to be a two-way race. A race for what, we're not quite sure, but a two-way race nonetheless. Microsoft is all about knitting things together, however obnoxiously. And let's face it, about half the planet is about to take GMail for a spin, and from that platform other features (calendar/PIM, etc.) can grow. That's good both for users (GMail is fast and has clever features) and Google (if it's cool enough people will pay for a premium version, so this makes Google less dependent on ads).
Not too long after we naturally ignored Google in our initial review of the portal contenders of 1999, it raced past others like AltaVista to become the best search engine. Four years after that, it has finally stopped arguing with reporters who have insisted that with so many diverse services, it was becoming a "portal." And now, perhaps, it wants to be even more than that.
What was that old canard? That search isn't "sticky"? Ha, ha. Turns out it was, and is.
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And for a glowing review of the pioneering 1st ed. of the book, check out this review, by none other than Google's Matt Cutts.
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