Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office: It’s All About Platform Dominance

Remember the browser wars? Netscape vs. Microsoft?

What was ultimately at stake technically?

Platform dominance.

Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen spoke frequently of browser-as-platform.

And let’s face it, the folks in Redmond have made a healthy business by owning the desktop platform. (In fact, based on the number of anti-trust suits against them, Microsoft may have been a tad too agressive in their quest for platform dominance.)

Why are software companies obsessed with platform dominance?

If you own the platform, you have a controlling influence in owning the software stack.

If you control/own the software stack, you own the customer.

How does this apply to Google Apps For Your Domain (GAFYD) vs. Microsoft Office?

Consider the Microsoft Office stack.

Microsoft

Individual applications like Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel are ultimately built upon the Microsoft Windows. Common functionalities, tools and utilities, plus the interoperability that exists between applications, is enabled by Microsoft’s Component Object Model (COM). (Object Linking and Embedding, OLE, was superceded by COM.) Although third-party software providers can and do leverage Microsoft Windows and Microsoft COM, in the case of Microsoft Office, this is a wholly proprietary, single-vendor software stack. Own the stack, own the customer. Note also that any Internetworking capabilities are inherited by the applications in Microsoft Office via COM and Windows. Unfortunately, I don’t know to what extent Microsoft Office Live modifies this stack.

Now consider the GAFYD stack.

[Update: I’ve misplaced this figure. Please see the revised stack referenced in the comments.]

GAFYD exist within the context of a Web browser. GAFYD likely leverages various Googlisms made available via a Google API. Analogous to COM in the Microsoft case, this API can be and is being leveraged by third parties. The foundation for Google is based on a number of open standards:

  • XML for expressibility
  • HTTP and SOAP for exchanges
  • URIs for addressing

In addition to these underlying open standards, GAFYD has the potential to leverage emerging Web middleware such as Web Services, the Semantic Web and Grid Computing.

[Update: I’ve misplaced this figure. Please see the revised stack referenced in the comments.]

Along with his co-authors, Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee has recently framed this context more completely elsewhere. The last two schematics are interpolated and extrapolated from the figure provided in the Berners-Lee et al. Science paper. The resulting unbundled, open-standards software stack is Web enabled from the outset. In striking contrast to the Microsoft case, GAFYD will likely result in a software ecosystem completely analogous to that developing around the Linux operating environment. This means that Google will battle Microsoft with only limited control of the software stack. They’ll need to rely on leveraging the rest of the stack, and ensuring that the promise of the Web (e.g., Web Services, the Semantic Web and Grid Computing) can be realized in GAFYD.

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2 responses to “Google Apps vs. Microsoft Office: It’s All About Platform Dominance”

  1. Ian Lumb says :

    There is indeed a Google API. More about it, and other APIs from Google soon.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Google Apps: Revised Software Stack « Ian Lumb’s Blog - September 1, 2006

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