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6 Lessons Google Can Learn From Microsoft

It's a pundit cliche to describe Google as "the next Microsoft" while drawing comparisons between Google's domination of the Internet and the Microsoft's domination of the desktop.

With Google's management in the midst of a shake-up, it might be a good time to put some prescription behind that description. Here are six things that Google can (and should) learn from their archenemies in Redmond:

  • LESSON #1: Lock customers into your products. Microsoft always designs products so once customers start using them, it's simply not cost-effective to make the leap to another product, even if the other product is better. Google, by contrast, has a core product that customers can swap out in two seconds if there's something better out there. That makes Google constantly vulnerable to outside innovation.
  • LESSON #2: Only take one big bite at a time. Microsoft tends to focus on capturing one market every five years or so. They always select a technology that's they see as strategic, and then put plenty of resources into making sure that they can not just compete, but dominate. Google, by contrast, is all over the map with all sorts of "neat" little projects and ideas, most of which simply flash in the pan and then are overrun by other, more focused firms.
  • LESSON #3: Never, ever, ever give up. Once Microsoft decides a market is strategic, they never give up. Look, for example, at how Microsoft remains completely committed to getting a foothold in handhelds and smartphones. Sometimes it makes Microsoft look woodenheaded and stubborn, but you know they'll keep plugging away until they get it right. Google, on the other hand, enters lightly into a market and exits just as lightly, leaving everyone to wonder why they bothered in the first place.
  • LESSON #4: No surprises for your investors. Microsoft's top management is always careful to ensure the investment community knows what's going to happen inside the company. Bill Gates's departure, for example, was signaled by several years of gradual movement of his activities away from Microsoft's core business. By contrast, Google just sprung the big news right before a briefing, making them look like they're out of control and confused.
  • LESSON #5: Don't kick sleeping bears. Microsoft only takes on huge competitors when they know they can win. For instance, Microsoft has studiously avoided direct conflict with the core businesses of IBM, Intel and Cisco. Google, on the other hand, has targeted Microsoft's core business: personal productivity aps and operating systems. As a result, they've earned the enmity of a company that is now committed (with Bing) to killing Google's core business.
  • LESSON #6: Business ain't a Kumbaya singalong. Microsoft doesn't pretend to be a workplace Nirvana. Yeah, the company makes all the "we're an innovative meritocracy" noises that are endemic to high tech firms. But everybody in the business knows that Redmond is the equivalent of the Death Star in Star Wars. Google, on the other hand, tries to be all crunchy-granola, but ends up looking a little loosey-goosey, if you know what I mean.
Google may be "The Next Microsoft" as the pundits have said, but if the company's not willing to learn some lessons from the rest of the industry, Google could end up being "The Next Novell".

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