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Google is making the same mistake now that Microsoft did in the 90s

Jason Snell | June 21, 2016
Some of the stuff Microsoft pulled in the 1990s was awful, and made users angry; and Google seems to still be making decisions that are more about promoting the greatness of Google than showing respect for users.

In so many ways, Google is the modern equivalent of Microsoft. It makes a operating system used by the majority of the market, running on an array of hardware from many vendors. It's powerful, ubiquitous - and the target of dislike and rage from many people who love Apple products. 

Now, I was never someone who bought into Microsoft hate. I never liked Windows, but I wrote hundreds of thousands of words on Microsoft Word for Mac. The first magazine cover story I ever wrote, for MacUser, was a web browser shootout between the incumbent, Netscape and a scrappy upstart called Internet Explorer. I wrote that IE was the better browser, which was quite a controversial statement in the days when 'Windows 95 = Macintosh '89′ buttons were in wide circulation.

So when I look at Google and see a latter-day version of 1990s Microsoft, I don't mean to portray it as a monster. Truth be told, just as I used Word 5.1 back in the day, I use many Google services today. My email is served by Gmail, and my comings and goings are arranged with Google Calendar. Most of my podcast and website collaboration happens in Google Sheets and Google Docs. (I also thought the Google I/O keynote last week was the best one I've seen - disciplined and focused in a way previous I/O keynotes haven't been.)

But some of the stuff Microsoft pulled in the 1990s was awful, and made users angry. And Google seems to still be making decisions that are more about promoting the greatness of Google than showing respect for users.

Back to the '90s

So let's recap what Microsoft did in the '90s. While Microsoft was busy building its Windows empire, from the very beginning it had been a good citizen on the Mac. Word and Excel had been with the Mac since the beginning. Excel was born on the Mac. I would wager that Word and Excel were the two most popular third-party programs on the Mac back in those days.

Then came 1993, and something funny happened: Microsoft released new versions of Microsoft Office for the Mac, all based on the Windows code base. The familiar Mac versions of Microsoft's apps vanished, replaced by programs that didn't behave like Mac apps at all. They were very clearly members of the Office for Windows suite, ported over to the Mac.

Why did Microsoft do it? To this day I can't decide if the powers that be were so high on the greatness of Windows that they imagined Mac users would take to the new Office like a glass of ice water in hell, or if they just cared so little for the Mac that it was no longer worth creating apps specifically for the Mac.

 

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