There has been much ado about Microsoft vs. Google lately, not just in the market but also in politics, such as this report on Microsoft’s lobbying efforts. I’ve certainly done my share of fulminating about Bing, not as a search engine, but as a Microsoft business strategy.
Now, Google is taking a page from Microsoft.
Remember that Microsoft gained traction for Internet Explorer by giving it away at a time when Netscape still cost money (I think about $50.00–I never had a for-pay copy). (The Harvard Review Business School has a good retrospective on the “Browser Wars.”) There was and is a price tag for Internet Explorer–you have to buy Windows–and remember that, when you buy a computer with Windows on it, you are also paying for a Windows license. Windows is not free and not comp; it’s just included.
Google Docs directly challenges Microsoft Office and, unlike other office applications, such as Open Office (which I’ve used for almost eight years) and Abiword, Google has enough visibility to get noticed by the wider world. (Heck, even WordPerfect, not free and closed source, is still kicking around, but when was the last time you saw someone using it, unless they had a Dell of a certain age?)
Frankly, I think this is what most worries Microsoft: Google is the first challenger they’ve faced in two decades with both the financial resources and the name recognition truly to give them a tussle.
Aside: My favorite browser, Opera, has clawed its way to two per cent on computers and is neck-and-neck with Apple in mobile devices. Opera for the desktop is free but not open source. Opera for cell phone comes in two flavors: free Opera Mini and paid Opera Mobile, which is what I use.