Reality Check: Microsoft: 21st-century has-been?

Early this month, Neil Holloway, president of Microsoft EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), said that in six months Microsoft's search engine "will be more relevant" to the consumer than Google's. It is no coincidence that Holloway used the word "relevant". In high tech more than in any other industry, if your technology has been bypassed by the newer and better, you're dead. Maintaining your relevancy is Job One. And for years, it has been Microsoft's Achilles' heel.

Java and the ability to "write once, run anywhere" was one of the early attacks that threatened Microsoft's relevancy in the enterprise. Why would you need Windows on the desktop if you could run an application on any OS?

The Internet was another. The now-famous memo to employees in which Bill Gates acknowledged that his company was slow to realize the importance of the "Internet tidal wave" was all about regaining relevancy.

Web services and SOAs are still another threat to Microsoft's relevancy. With SOA, in theory, IT can string together the best components from various applications and run them on any system.

Finally, we have the sad spectacle of Microsoft announcing Microsoft Live -- once again late to the table -- as if it were suddenly going to own the SaaS (software as a service) space when it didn't even have a "relevant" product to accompany its announcement.

So there is a lot of history and significance behind Holloway's statement. But for me, it was an unfortunate boast that just highlights how far behind Microsoft really is. Yes, Google's search engine is a high-profile target for competitors, but Google has moved well beyond being the best search engine on the block. Google established that beachhead several years ago. It is now busy leveraging it by making inroads into the enterprise (with the Google Search Appliance) and even more directly onto the desktop (with Google Desktop).

At the same time, now that Google has established itself as a trusted provider of information, it is using that trust to offer an ever-wider blanket of services, including news, maps, books, and tools. As reported by our own IDG News Service, Google is also adding e-commerce transaction capabilities in order to provide a platform for buyers to purchase items on credit cards.

I also suggest you check out Google's career site if you want an eye-opener. Here's an excerpt from one of many similar postings: "Project Manager -- Network Acquisition -- Mountain View ... Skills: A strong understanding of Layer 1 through Layer 3 network services and technologies including dark fiber, DWDM, SONET/SDH, Ethernet, and IP."

Google is looking for fibre-optics engineers. Why? Perhaps, some say, because they will soon be offering streaming applications over the Internet. Choose your operating system and the apps you want to use, and Google will stream them to you directly.

The point is, Microsoft's boast that it will have a better search engine in six months sounds like too little, too late. Microsoft looks like a drowning man, flailing around in a huge ocean, desperately trying to find land.

We are witnessing the end of an era. I'm not sure that any one company will ever hold sway over an industry the way Microsoft did, but I am sure that the enterprise has far more options now than it ever has -- and will be increasingly inclined to use them.

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