Google Gives Microsoft A Little Antitrust Payback
Business is war, and payback is hell, but corporate trustbusting is more of a sport. Like basketball players insisting the ball bounced off the other guy’s foot, Microsoft and Google are at it again. This time Google returns the antitrust volley by announcing its intention to apply to become a third party in the European Commission’s investigation into Microsoft’s “unfair” bundling of Internet Explorer with Windows.
We remember amid all the Microsoft-Yahoo drama about this time last year how Yahoo climbed under Google’s wing for protection and threw its search business at Google’s feet. The search deal would have given Google up to, depending on which metrics one consulted, 90 percent of the US’s search advertising business. We sat back in awe of the hypocritical gall Microsoft showed filing a complaint with US regulators claiming Google was in violation of antitrust laws. When government officials looked poised to agree, Google and Yahoo canceled the deal.
Now it’s once again Microsoft’s turn to face the regulatory gauntlet, this time in the EU as competitors like Mozilla, Opera, and soon, Google try to convince watchdogs the bundling of IE with Windows operating systems constitutes unfair business practices because of Microsoft’s dominance in that market.
Google VP of Product Management Sundar Pichai says, “Google believes that the browser market is still largely uncompetitive, which holds back innovation for users. This is because Internet Explorer is tied to Microsoft’s dominant computer operating system, giving it an unfair advantage over other browsers. Compare this to the mobile market, where Microsoft cannot tie Internet Explorer to a dominant operating system, and its browser therefore has a much lower usage.”
The problem with both these issues and all the companies (players) involved is that these maneuvers are mere charades to get ahead and gain the referee’s favor. The refs want to be fair, they hear a lot of shouting from both sides, and when in doubt call it for whichever team appears to be losing (voters like it when you fight for the underdog, too).
But the problem with antitrust accusations in either case (Google and search, Microsoft and IE) is that there is no true monopoly of any limited good or service. Consumers have choices in both situations, and in both situations consumers have chosen in overwhelming numbers a particular provider.
These aren’t robber barons hoarding up precious and limited steel and oil, forcing buyers to buy from only them and driving up the price. These aren’t telephone company executives preventing the public from having a choice in service and technology. What we have is essentially software competing a world full of software, and two companies that excelled in their particular realms to the point they are the Coke and Pepsi of the tech world. Are we going to bust up Coca-Cola now because Royal Crown (RC) can’t seem to get a decent foothold in the soda market and is perpetually in third (or worse) place?
Google has always had challengers in the search market, and Google has always won. But that’s fair. They’re the best. You don’t get mad at Kentucky because they’ve won so many basketball championships, do you? (You might, we hate Duke and North Carolina with a passion and we’re pretty sure they deserve it.)
And don’t blame Microsoft for Microsoft’s personal computer market dominance. Blame Apple for stubborn price points. When you set yourself up as the BMW of computers, it’s hard to get mad when the competition grabs the rest of the cost-conscious world. There have always been other browsers and operating systems, and because Microsoft leveraged their popularity by bundling other services with Windows that doesn’t make them anticompetitive. It makes them smart business guys.
If people aren’t using competitor products it’s because they don’t know or don’t care about them. It’s hard to imagine a real monopoly in a world of digital options, and governments need to step out of these digital wars.