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Microsoft accuses Google of 'software plus services'

Mountain View's self-contradiction

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Microsoft has accused Google of behaving like Microsoft.

Back in 2007, Redmond bet its web future on what it likes to call "software plus services" - the notion that web applications are best used in tandem with clientware installed on your local PC. And for the past two and a half years, this has remained the Redmond mantra - with Google supplying the conspicuous counter argument. Mountain View, you see, has been known to say that the web is everything.

The two were at it again last spring. At the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco in April, Microsoft Office honcho Stephen Elop called Tim 2.0'Reilly's rambling theories on client-free software "hogwash," hailing things like Facebook's iPhone client as the future of application development. Then, just weeks later at Google's San Francisco developer conference, Google vice president of engineering - and former Redmond bigwig - Vic Gundotra announced that the web had "won," becoming the world's dominant programming model.

But as 2010 begins, Microsoft believes that after two and half years of this back and forth, Google has embraced Redmond's "software plus services" vision - at least implicitly. "Google went from Eric Schmidt saying in 2007... that 90 per cent of what you do today can be done in the browser to all sorts of Google managers and engineers being quoted publicly as saying that the path forward will be connecting cloud-based services with on-premise apps," Microsoft director of platform strategy Tim O'Brien tells The Reg.

At a San Francisco mini-conference this fall, Google evangelist Vint Cerf moved off message when he said there's a serious future for clients apps on mobile devices. And as O'Brien points out, Mountain View is working overtime to dovetail its online business suite, Google Apps, with the existing infrastructure of potential customers. Schmidt said as much during an earnings call this past summer.

"It takes them some time to convert or adapt the systems that they have to use the new web-based computing," he said - the key word being "adapt."

But even with the apps themselves, Microsoft's Tim O'Brien says, Google is hedging its all-web-all-the-time claims - in its own Googly way. "They're doing things like off-line Calendar and off-line Gmail," O'Brien says. "They're just solving age-old problems like online-offline sync and taking things running in a browser frame and giving them access to local system resources in a secure way... These are problems that have already been solved in Windows - and Mac OS for that matter - and they're just being re-solved all over again."

Off-line Gmail is one thing - using the still-gestating HTML5 standard, it runs in the browser proper - but you'd have to say O'Brien has a point with that "local system resources" bit - a swipe at Google's Native Client, Mountain View's take on a native-code-executing browser plug-in along the lines of Flash or Silverlight. The plug-in is set for Google's Chrome OS netbook operating system, and we wouldn't be surprised if it'll run native-code versions of Google Apps.

"They're contradicting their distain for plug-ins," O'Brien says. "They don't like Flash or Silverlight, but here's Google Native Client. There's something weird going on there."

Google's self-contradiction, O'Brien says, is proof that Microsoft and chief software architect Ray Ozzie knew what they were talking about. "Ray was right about software plus services," he continues. "What people want is off-line and online capabilities, and a mix of things running locally with things running in the cloud. And developers want nothing more than to exploit the local device."

Of course, we're still waiting for Microsoft's flagship Office software plus services. But 2010 is the year. ®

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