The Google-Microsoft Proxy War
This battle over whether or not Microsoft has the right to hire Kai-Fu Lee is really not over Kai-Fu Lee, or the Asian market. The battle is the first of many in a potentially nasty proxy-war over mindshare. It appears to me that Microsoft has more to gain by playing the victim here since Microsoft has perennially been seen as the bullying bad-guy. I don't think that there could be a better opportunity for Microsoft to publicly claim that Google is being “Evil” and Microsoft is playing it for everything that its worth.
So why again is Microsoft so scared. As an “Evil” company, Microsoft is seeing something in the growing open source movement that has them scared. It isn't their technology or there developers, it is the idea that the OSS movement is good and Microsoft is bad. Likewise, Microsoft is not scared of Google's technology or their money insofar as they are afraid of Google's growing image. Once Google has greater public mindshare, as if they didn't already, than Microsoft then it is pretty much over for them. I agree with Charles Cooper That the world of computing is going Thin-Client again, and that your computer will boot onto the web and run the Google Web OS, whatever that might look like. As such, you'll have your choice of thousands of applications from a myriad of developers for a low monthly fee, as well as suites of applications available from Google for free with unobtrusive advertising suggesting products to you. Sounds familiar doesn't it? This was Microsoft's vision for the operating system that began with Windows 95 / 98 and Active X. Microsoft, however in it's traditional street thug mentality wanted to force everyone to use only Microsoft's web products by making Active X only available for it's Windows platform. Google on the other hand will make these things available for all platforms. Microsoft still hasn't truly realized it's mistake as it has a great technology platform with indigo and Avalon, but unless the Avalon engine can run on other systems, they will have problems, especially with a resurgent Apple and the Macintosh.
Someone asked me recently why search was so important. After all the usual, providing a gateway to the worlds' information stuff I realized that search was really just a useful tool in a larger scheme. As great as finding answers to your questions is, imagine a spreadsheet program that was web based with all of the market demographics available at a click to compare with your reports, or if you are an author, having a built in support group to discuss your ideas who could mark up your work in real-time. These things are very possible, and the public right now trusts Google, not Microsoft. So we can expect Microsoft to do everything they can to point out where Google is not acting scrupulously, or where they could be misconstrued as acting unscrupulously. I guess this is the beginning of the search cold war. Perhaps if Yahoo! can stay out of it, they will conserve enough resources to come out on top after both Microsoft and Google have exhausted themselves. But I don't think so, I think Yahoo! will have to chose sides, and given their current situation it looks like they will choose to side with Microsoft, especially since they basically helped start Google and all. Well, the one thing we can all be sure of is that there are interesting times ahead for computing, but if the current trend continues, web developers and end-users will reap the benefits.