Inaccuracies Abound as Media Digests Sun and Google Pact

The more that is written about the alliance between Sun and Google announced on Tuesday, the less it appears to resemble anything even close to the truth. But the Times of India really takes the biscuit – sorry guys, but how could anyone who listened to the announcement come to the conclusion that Sun and Google have merged?

According to the Times of India, "Google has announced a strategic merger with giant Sun Microsystems, in a deal that is expected to create another dent in arch-competitor Microsoft’s monopoly over the Internet."

Many of you will have spotted two pretty significant problems with this sentence. Firstly, Sun and Google announced an alliance, not a merger. Second, Microsoft does not have a "monopoly over the Internet". No-one does. Microsoft may have the lion’s share of the browser market, but that’s not the same as having a monopoly over the Internet. Besides, the Sun-Google collaboration is not so much about changing the dynamics of the browser market as it is about changing the dynamics of the desktop applications market.

The Indian Express fared slightly better, but they too seem to have witnessed a completely different press conference to the rest of the world. According to the paper, "Google Inc took a big step toward challenging Microsoft Corp’s dominance in computer word-processing and spreadsheets with the announcement today that it would distribute Java technology from Sun Microsystems Inc." Wrong again – Sun will distribute the Google Toolbar when people download Java from Sun. So far, Google has not said it will be distributing Java. They are exploring other ways to collaborate, they say, but there is no firm news yet.

Besides, how would Google’s distribution of Java increase its challenge against Microsoft’s word processing and spreadsheets applications business? 20 million people already download Java every month. 54 million people have downloaded Sun’s StarOffice and the open source OpenOffice applications suites. Now if Google were to distribute OpenOffice, it may hurt Microsoft Office a bit. But you can already get it for free pretty easily already, and if you don’t know where to look you can always do a search on Google for it.

Then there was the strange news from Australia’s Brisbane Courier-Mail. While there was indeed – and still is – a huge amount of speculation as to whether Google will eventually offer to run OpenOffice in a hosted manner on its servers, the companies fell short of confirming that at the conference. Indeed they were pressed on this subject and would say only that it is all "legitimate speculation". Tell that to the Brisbane Courier-Mail, which wrote that: "Internet search engine Google has declared war on Microsoft, announcing plans to launch free spreadsheet and word-processing software online… Google has joined forces with US-based technology giant Sun Microsystems to allow web users to access Sun’s OpenOffice from any personal computer."

Incredibly that story was also picked up and run as fact by at least one UK IT publication. But neither company announced any such thing. The only distribution deal announced was that Sun will distribute the Google Toolbar when people download Java. That will increase Google traffic and the use of Google services perhaps, but has no bearing on Microsoft Office.

While there is indeed still speculation – I stress that it is speculation – that Google may later in the deal offer to either distribute OpenOffice to people visiting Google websites, or indeed host OpenOffice on its servers so people can create, store and share office documents right in their browser, neither of these will necessarily make a massive dent in Microsoft’s Office business.

As I say OpenOffice is already widely available. The added publicity may see some people turning to it but some have done that already – 54 million of them. OpenOffice, though an excellent office applications suite considering it is free, is not as feature rich as Microsoft Office. There are free open source application servers, and they have not killed off WebSphere or WebLogic, though they have created pricing pressure and forced those products to take in broader and broader functionality.

As for the idea of a fully hosted office suite, well that will not kill Microsoft Office either. For one thing, you would only be able to use that when you were online. What about when you are not? There are questions over performance for anything more intensive than writing a simple letter – think of the server farm Google would need to enable thousands of people to do complicated spreadsheet analysis concurrently.

There are questions as to whether Google would display adverts next to the letter you are writing. There are questions of privacy and security (though people already trust Hotmail, Yahoo, GMail et al with their email). There is the question of whether a hosted version would be as feature-rich as Microsoft Office, the issue of people’s familiarity with Office, the issue of Microsoft’s massive marketing budget, the issue of Microsoft’s forthcoming even-tighter integration between its various Windows applications, etcetera etcetera.

To cut a long story short, whatever Sun and Google have up their sleeves, they are unlikely to be able to march in and steal market share quite so easily. Microsoft won’t sit back and watch one of its best sellers take a drumming. But it will be watching developments closely, to be sure.

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