Google vs. Microsoft: Just Cut It Out

by Steve Wildstrom   |   January 5th, 2013


YouTube screen shot

Hostilities between Google and Microsoft are heating up, and users are being caught in the crossfire.

Microsoft, of course, has spent the last couple of years trying to bring the wrath of the federal government down on Google. This campaign failed last week, when the Federal Trade Commission let Google off with a mild admonishment because it did not have a case it thought it could win.

There’s no way to know if this is retaliation, but Google seems determined to make life difficult for Microsoft customers. The latest evidence is Google’s apparent decision to block access to Google Maps from Windows Phone 8 handsets. The issue is shrouded in a bit of confusion. Gizmodo first reported the blockage. Google responded by saying that the problem was that the mobile version of Google Maps is designed to work with Webkit browsers and the Windows Phone 8 browser is based on the non-Webkit Internet Explorer. But this explanation fell apart when Microsoft pointed out that the Windows Phone 8 browser is essentially the same as the Windows 8 version of IE, which works just fine with Google Maps.

App developer Matthias Shapiro seemed to settle the argument with a YouTube video  that shows calls from Windows Phone 8 to Google Maps failing until the browser-agent string is changed to disguise the browser. With the phony browser-agent string, Google Maps worked just fine (in what appears to be a Windows Phone 8 emulator).

Fortunately, Windows Phone 8 users have other mapping options. I supposed Google has the right to deny its Maps service to any device it wants to block, but this just seems dumb and petty.

In other Google annoyances, yesterday I entered a search string in my Chrome browser and when the search page came up, I got an odd popup asking me if I wanted to share my results on Google+. Thinking that no one could conceivably be interested in my search for information on Fermat’s Little Theorem, I closed the window, unfortunately before I thought to capture a screen shot.  I have not yet been able to replicate this behavior, but Google popping up a G+ interstitial every time I do a search could just drive me to Bing.

Steve Wildstrom

Steve Wildstrom is veteran technology reporter, writer, and analyst based in the Washington, D.C. area. He created and wrote BusinessWeek’s Technology & You column for 15 years. Since leaving BusinessWeek in the fall of 2009, he has written his own blog, Wildstrom on Tech and has contributed to corporate blogs, including those of Cisco and AMD and also consults for major technology companies.
  • Defendor

    This is kind of funny, because this is exactly what Microsoft did to alternate browsers when it was the 800lb gorilla. Some of their pages didn’t work with alternate browsers unless you spoofed the id string. Just deserts IMO.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Yep, Microsoft blocked non-IE browsers from reaching MSN for a while. A lot of good it did them. Google, too, is cutting off its nose to spite its face. The saving grace for them is that there are few enough Windows phones that it won’t make much of a difference.

      • Walt French

        Between this and Google restricting the quality of GMail to many Microsoft users, there are obviously People In Charge (not just rogue contractors in Kenya) who are thinking Google gains an advantage by having it publicized that Win8 and WinPhone are in a risky minority status.

        Effectively, stories such as this are, as an important side effect that Google intended, helping to make the incompatibilities into serious FUD.

        It’s not clear that it’ll actually HARM Google: if people grumble about Google being unethical or evil, but then keep buying Nexus devices instead of Surfaces, Google will be embarrassed all the way to the bank.

  • Garrantsson

    It does show that Google’s tactics are no different than Microsoft’s.

  • JuddeN

    Just tired of Google pulling these moves. I guess we have another bully boy in the making. Is the real Google beginning to surface?

  • charlesdjones1

    Oh please people keep bringing up a Microsoft from over 15 years ago, definitely not the Google of today. These are all sour business practices I’ve known about for years as a Windows user that are just now getting exposed in the open, it’s about time. Google is evil, and I am saying that from my Nexus 7.

  • Lucas1

    Google, DON’T BE EVIL.

  • def4

    It’s still not clear to me why has this story been blown up so much (except the obvious trolling blogs are known for).
    My understanding is that this came about because IE doesn’t support the same touch events as the other mobile browsers.

    But nothing has been exaggerated more than the practical impact on customers.
    Who can honestly claim that any significant number of Windows Phone users were relying on loading Google Maps in mobile IE for their mapping needs?

    • steve_wildstrom

      What really happened here turns out to be fairly complicated. The estimable Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land has all the details here.

  • tz

    Google has slowly but surely lost my goodwill.
    Cancelled my gmail account recently. I avoid them as much as possible.
    Spy on me, er, data mine and profile me so you can sell me to your advertisers?
    No thanks.