Microsoft girds for Google battle

Assistant editor Howard Solomon and I were working on a headline for the front page story on Microsoft’s play for Yahoo. The original working headline had been “Microsoft ‘frightened’ of Google monopoly: Analyst,” but the last two words didn’t fit, and to say Redmond is “frightened” of Google would be disingenuous. Howard restructured it and took another pass: “Google frightens Microsoft.” Still no good. “Google frightens … (long, thoughtful pause) … the world”? Not quite. How about: “Google frightens … (eyebrow arches) … God”?

There’s no doubt that Redmond’s proposed purchase of Yahoo is more about Google than it is about Yahoo. Likewise, if there was ever any doubt that Microsoft’s chief nemesis is Google, that can be dismissed.

Microsoft has been aiming to one-up Google on the search-advertising-network front since the launch of Windows Live, a suite of online tools that simply hasn’t gained the traction Redmond had hoped. People still Google. It’s a verb. Yahoo is an opportunity to buy that traction.

A combined Microsoft-Yahoo offering would face off quite neatly against Google’s. In some areas, it would be overmatched (Yahoo Video vs. YouTube?). In others, it’s a split (blogging is largely a difference of preference) and Microsoft’s entrenchment on the desktop is absolutely an advantage.

But Google is ahead of the search-advertising field and threatening to lap it. Even if the Yahoo deal were approved tomorrow, there’s a process of integration to go through that will eat up time. And I never hesitate to remind people that Google has a huge inventory of dark fibre (no one’s sure what it’s for, but conspiracy theories abound) and IP V6 addresses. Google is frighteningly well-entrenched.

But before you count Microsoft out of this game, I’ve got two words for you to consider.

Netscape Navigator.

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