Why Google is Not the New Microsoft

on May 24, 2013

My history with the PC industry is very long. I got to work on the original IBM PC with Don Estridge’s team in Boca Raton and saw up close and personal how the PC industry developed and how the value creation for the industry came about. I also got to work on early marketing programs for the Mac as well as programs for Compaq, Dell, HP, Toshiba, DEC, and many others as the PC market was hatched and eventually became an almost trillion dollar industry. Perhaps the most interesting fact from the early days of the PC is that IBM created their PC from off the shelf parts and never even considered developing a proprietary design at first. By using an open approach to the PC architecture it did not take long before others created IBM PC clones and took IBM on soon after the IBM PC hit the market in 1981.

Most industry folks know that when IBM sought out an OS for their PC, they first visited Gary Kildall and his company Digital Research Inc. as they were interested in his CPM OS. But when they arrived, Gary was not there and more or less snubbed them and they instead went to see Bill Gates and as they say, the rest is history. I did many Computer Chronicle shows with Kildall and he refuted the idea that he intentionally snubbed them; regardless, the end result was that IBM ended up using MS-DOS and it became the heart of their and many PC Clone’s operating system for almost a decade.

Over the years Microsoft has become an industry behemoth and has gotten into many different businesses to help extend their Windows franchise. But from the beginning, Microsoft did have one important goal and focus. It was to give PC OEMs an OS and actually help them make money with their PCs. Microsoft licensed MS DOS and then Windows to PC makers and continued to refine it and upgrade it along the way. The PC vendors could then create hardware optimized for these operating systems and add value through hardware and software add-ons. With each new version of Windows, Microsoft helped their PC partners grow their business and as people upgraded from one version of the OS to the others, many people along the value chain were greatly enriched. Besides PC companies making money, VARs, retailers and value added service providers all benefited from an ecosystem in which they could build new designs and services around Windows and keep all of that money for themselves.

When it comes to money and value creation for their partners, Google’s goals are very different and this is what really sets them apart from Microsoft.

A One Sided Relationship

While they too have an OS that companies can license, the real goal of their licensed OS is to bring users of these devices into direct contact with Google’s ads and services. Google says they really want their partners to be successful and while that is probably true, what they really mean is that if partners are successful in distributing their OS, than Google can reap the majority of the financial benefits. Sources tell me that a company like Samsung, who is literally their largest partner and almost single handily making Android successful, gets only a 10% commission on any of Googles ads or services they bring to Google. That same 10% commission applies to a giant like Samsung as well as any other companies distributing Android on their smartphones and tablets, except for Amazon and Barnes and Noble. In these two cases, Amazon and Barnes and Noble have forked Android for their own uses and can keep all proceeds from products and services sold through their devices. This works because they have an ecosystem of books, music, apps, and services that are their own and don’t need Google’s content to be successful. But most of Androids partners, such as Samsung, HTC and others, must rely on Google for music, video and apps and must pay this very large tax to Google if they want to use Android.

This is not to say that Microsoft’s OS licensee fee is not a tax in its own right. However, once that fee is paid, Microsoft gets no extra revenue from their partners regardless of what they sell in way of their hardware and services. And even if they tap into Microsoft’s ecosystem of apps or services, I understand their revenue cut to their partners is much more than Google gives their partners. This is why there have been rumors that Samsung has not been happy with Google since they do all of the hard work in creating a device, optimizing Android’s OS and delivering a value added UI to it as well as managing the channels and pay to make their own ads. Yet Google treats their cut of the profits the same as a small player that sells a much lower volume of devices than Samsung does with their products. No wonder analysts are looking closely at Samsung’s recent decision to fold their own mobile OS called Bada into Tizen and suspect that if Samsung wants to control their own destiny and keep more of the app, ads and services for themselves, that they might move more and more to Tizen as their mobile OS of choice.

While many rag on Microsoft as being a 900 pound gorilla lording their wares over their partners with a heavy hand, they at least let their partners make and keep as much profit as they can from any products and services they offer their customers. Not so Google. They too are a 900 pound gorilla but in their case these vendors are just a front end distribution medium for putting Google’s ads and services before their customers and ultimately reap the lions share of most of the profits made at the expense of their partners. And in this sense, the difference between Microsoft and Google is glaring indeed.