A friend of mine asked me this weekend why people have such different opinions of Microsoft and Google. After all, both are near monopolies, and both have a lot of information about YOU.
It is a good question to examine, and while Google has received some criticisms, the overall attitude towards them seems to be much more positive than Microsoft.
While I'm sure there are a lot of reasons that can be cited, I personally find two very compelling reasons:
1. Most people don't pay Google any money.
2. Google is pretty open with integration and reuse, Microsoft is (somewhat) aggressively closed.
Google makes a lot of money, but it primarily comes from advertisers. The general public as a whole simply receives a 'free' service from Google. Search, Email, Maps (web and 3D), RSS Readers, Document and Spreadsheet applications, etc. The list goes on. All 'free'. It's hard to get too uptight about someone who is providing you a 'free' service. (Yes, 'free' is in parenthesis. You 'pay' by viewing and clicking on ads, but most people are already used to that, and they are pretty unobtrusive).
In fact, in addition to being 'free', Google actually pays people. It is very easy to setup AdWords advertisements on a website (I should know, check out my opens source pages). While the revenue may not be competitive with targeted web advertising, for 15 minutes of effort you can at least make back your hosting charges.
Contrast this with Microsoft. You must pay for (nearly) all of its software. And it forces you to download software to verify that you've actually paid for it. Even if you have paid for it, Microsoft may still refuse to update your machine (As many as 20% false positives? Even if it is 1/2 that, that is a major pain).
Google is pretty open about people leveraging, reusing, integrating, and extending their services. Even some things that are pretty blatantly misusing their services (GMail Drive) are tolerated. Let alone all the Mashups that exist for Google Maps, facilitated by their open API that is free for up to 50,000 requests per day per. You can embed Google search into your site, etc.
If you are a developer, you can use the web framework (GWT) Google developed for its web applications for free. They also release several other open source tools, such as Guice, which I blogged about before. The list goes on...
Now, you can certainly claim that I'm not being fair to Microsoft here. They do have some open source release, and their Live Search Virtual Earth has an API too right? Sure. They even offer a free version of Visual Studio, which of course was a topic of a previous post. The problem is, Microsoft is just playing a different game.
Microsoft makes money from licenses. When you enable features in the free version of Visual Studio, they see that (rightly?) as an attack on their revenue. When you reverse-engineer their file sharing protocols, or file formats, you are attacking their revenue. I understand their point, but that doesn't change people's perceptions.
When you do nearly anything with Google, you are driving more eyeballs to their service offerings. To Google, eyeballs = revenue. To Microsoft, too much of what people want to do is seen as an attack that they must defend against. So while Google is out there encouraging people to do just about anything, Microsoft is playing defense. It isn't hard to understand how that results in the current perceptions.
How does Microsoft fix this? Well, that'll have to be the topic of a future post.