When Bill Gates stood down from Microsoft earlier this year, he was hoping his legacy would be secure.
Windows Vista, the product of more than six years labour, was supposed to cement the firm’s hold on the computer desktop while the $10bn it had spent trying to topple Google should have at least allowed it to make inroads against the behemoth.
But Vista is a bloated and slow operating system while Microsoft can only claim around ten per cent of the online advertising market; unless the technology giant acquires Yahoo! at the right price, its future is looking increasingly bleak. Rather than leaving on a high note, Gates got out on time.
A Single Ray of Hope
Amid all this doom and gloom, there has always been a ray of hope: the firm’s dominance in the office software space, which is all but absolute. Last year, the Microsoft business division, where sales of its Office suite dominate, provided the firm with sales of $18.3bn (£9bn) out of the company’s $58bn. It also provided $11.8bn out of $20.8bn in operating profit. Without it, Microsoft would cease to be.
Cash Cows Are Not Sacred
But in the intensely competitive technology sector, few cash cows are sacred. Yesterday, Google made its most blatant play for the office software space to date, releasing Chrome, its own web browser.
At first glance, it might seem odd to suggest that a free web browser will have any effect on the business software space; its immediately obvious competitors are Internet Explorer and Mozilla’s Firefox, not Office.
But Google’s web browser is really a free, optimised operating system for its own suite of web-based office applications, which it has been quietly developing since 2005. Google Docs, which does just about everything Office does, has been held back for a variety of reasons, including the fact that web browsers just aren’t built for running feature rich applications like Word or Excel.
Google is hoping to address that with Chrome, a piece of software that will fit its own applications like a glove, just as Windows is a perfect match for Office. Eventually, it hopes that other big hitters such as Facebook – whose own website is looking more like an application by the day – will develop their own apps for the platform, gradually reducing Microsoft’s grip on the computer desktop.
Don’t Hold Your Breath
Although the launch of Chrome has been much-vaunted, Google is unlikely to topple Microsoft Office any time soon. Corporations will be resistant to give up Office and Windows, a duo which have provided decades of dependability. Similarly, rank and file IT staff – who have an often understated admiration for the firm’s products – will not be jumping ship any time soon. Google might be the Goliath when it comes to the battle for web domination. But in this fight, it is well and truly a David.