Microsoft and Google are vying for your futures
CAIRO: This year has seen both Microsoft and Google lining up with the Middle East. Each is tied into a global audience and intends to build on it; each is increasingly aware of the Arab demographic and what it means to their futures.
Both have markedly different business models that serve the region in different ways and each of their product mixes still only overlaps slightly. As companies, they are increasingly being seen as competing for kudos amongst hi-tech Middle Easterners. This was highlighted most blatantly in Cairo last June when both held press conferences at the same time.
Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates has been busy lately with his now primary role as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, including as keynote speaker at the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto earlier this week. Microsoft itself has stepped up its drive for corporate social responsibility, and we saw this here in Egypt in June. Its presence at Cairo’s Global Summit for Women was acknowledged and they are in the midst of implementing programs that train and educate underprivileged Egyptian women. Not forgetting their business needs, though, they’ve since thrust online “This copy of Windows is not genuine alerts for those people who power up computers that run a bootleg copy of Windows. In Egypt, awareness of intellectual property issues is still insufficient for that alert to have as much of an effect on computer users as Microsoft is hoping to have with Egyptian women through its do-good work.
Google has been making gains this year in the region, both with their Arabic search capabilities and their announcement at a June press conference of Google news in Arabic (at http://news.google.com/intl/ar). Both moves should help Google’s approval in the region and indirectly encourage people to develop more Arabic content than is online at present, at only 1 percent of all online content. Google’s market value is now $115 billion, well above the $94 billion of 2004.
Both Microsoft and Google are quite well thought of in Egypt. “People want reliability: Windows XP is stable so most people swear by it. As for Google, it’s proven its trustworthiness to the masses by going to court against the American government, says Internet securities consultant Ahmed Shazly. His reference is to Google’s recent efforts to block a US government request for the company and other search engine firms to provide personal data on their users.
With Google, you can look up a route to the Pyramids that avoids Pyramid Street, find the most frugal of online mail-order stores, get news headlines for the region, and create documents via the online word processor and spreadsheet applications. The search is so strong that the company name has been an official dictionary entry meaning to search online, and the firm has also catapulted close to the top of most surveys of where university and especially business school graduates want to apply their newfound knowledge. All this activity and hype is driving up Google’s stock and making Microsoft rather nervous.
The battle between these giants seems more about looking like the underdog and the voice of the people in order to hold the position of high-tech darling. And it’s a fickle crowd. As Google takes over a strong majority of all online searches, big e-business entities like Amazon have stepped out of a partnership with Google to instead have Microsoft’s MSN power their searches, partly out of fear that Google is too dominant. This is exactly what happened to Microsoft, driving passionate youth in particular to bypass Internet Explorer for Netscape or, more recently, Firefox, not necessarily for better functionality but merely as the anti-Microsoft alternative.
As Google is potentially starting to get a bit big to be an underdog, Microsoft is taking steps to regain credibility with this same web-savvy demographic. It struck a deal with Yahoo! Messenger to integrate their instant messaging communities and just this week announced a high-profile initiative enabling hot gaming programmers to build their own games, playable on any Xbox 360. Microsoft’s transition from operating systems to online functionality is not easy, but it is innovative. It has used Xbox to test drive the online market place and since then has been promoting its Media Center products for people who want to enjoy all the nice things about the Internet but don’t want to know much about computers.
“Microsoft wants as many people as possible using their software in Egypt. Eventually we will all be buying Microsoft products, says Shazly, “They may be losing out on money due to all the pirated copies of their products here, but they are working with the government and other large organizations by selling life-time packages that don’t require upgrading and are just one-time deals.
Innovative models like this, targeted more specifically to developing countries like Egypt, may mean that Google and Microsoft can succeed more in these markets and in turn, continue to invest – whether through Arabic-specific products and services or through training up the most disadvantaged parts of our population. Both aims are fine by me.
Whoever wins or loses this battle for our attention, you can be sure that we’re always going to be using technology to collaborate and communicate with one another across the globe.