Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Microsoft, Google, and smartphones

As someone who spends more time on the internet than watching TV, I tend to read a lot of blogs.  One of them, Lifehacker, occasionally will ask readers what type of products they use.  For example, they might have an open discussion about what users think is the best PDF viewer, and then later they'll post the top five based on the readers' picks.  After reading a few, I began to notice a trend.  Best e-mail?  Gmail.  Best search engine?  Google.  Even as real-world statistics have Firefox inching ahead of Internet Explorer, a disproportionate number of Lifehacker readers responded with Google Chrome when asked what browser they preferred.  I was especially put off by one commenter who suggested that anyone who wasn't using Gmail was a dinosaur, as if the very notion that I'd prefer my Yahoo email over Gmail's disorganized mess was alien to him.

I don't mean to call out Lifehacker or its readers specifically; Google love seems to be abundant on the web.  Another common web theme I don't get is how reviled Microsoft has become.  They portray Microsoft as a greedy, evil empire.  Nevermind that most of them are doing so from Windows PCs, or that many of them have Xboxes.  Nevermind that Microsoft has given over $2 billion to charities since 1983.  And nevermind that, as a business, of course Microsoft is trying to make money.  Newsflash: so is Google.  And maybe a few years ago when Google was competing with MSN and IE was over 90% of the browser market it was cool to see Google as the scrappy underdog.  Today, Firefox has passed IE in total browser market share, and Google dominates the internet.  Google is such a commonly-used search engine that "Google" has entered the English language as a verb meaning "to look something up on the internet."

Today, Google is very much an empire, pulling in almost $22 billion in revenue in 2008.  And while Microsoft is trying to make money by selling things like Windows and Office, Google is making their money through advertising.  Indeed, they monitor all sorts of things and buy up advertising companies so that they can make money advertising at you while you use Google, Gmail, Blogger, and other Google services.  This somehow makes them benevolent and Microsoft the evil empire?

Since the debut of the iPhone, I've noticed another disturbing trend.  Almost overnight, the cellular market shifted.  Prior to the iPhone, smartphones were large phones with business in mind.  Palm, Microsoft, and RIM were the big players.  But the iPhone made smartphones cool with its undeniable good looks and ease of use (even if it was missing basic features like MMS).  Palm, with their new webOS, and Symbian have their small but dedicated following.  The iPhone rocketed on to take over 50% of the smartphone market, and its two strongest competitors are Microsoft and Google.  And like everything else Microsoft, Windows Mobile seems to be taking an unfair beating, and like everything else Google, their Android OS seems to be getting a pass.

I'm not writing this as a defense of Windows Mobile.  In fact, a lot of what you'll hear about it is true.  Without modifications, Windows Mobile is an ugly beast.  It's changed little since PocketPC 2002.  It's menus look ancient, and it can be difficult to navigate them without a stylus.  In fact, Windows Mobile doesn't technically support capacitive touchscreens, making their touchscreens less precise than devices like the iPhone.  Windows Mobile 6.5 has be derided as a stopgap measure to keep pretty up Windows Mobile 6 until they can get a badly-needed ground-up rebuild of Windows Mobile out the door.  All of this largely ignores the fact that most handset manufacturers put they're own graphical layers over Windows Mobile, and some of them (like HTC's TouchFLO 3D) are very usable and attractive.  It also ignores Windows Mobile's biggest advantage: it's an open platform.  Sure, it's not as user-friendly as the iPhone, but Windows Mobile phones are very customizable, hackable, and have a ton of third-party software available.

Android, on the other hand, is trumpeted as the iPhone's biggest competitor.  As a new OS, it's definitely more finger-friendly than Windows Mobile currently is.  What few people are telling you, though, is that even up to version 2.0 (the version on Motorola's Droid), Android is just as ugly as Windows Mobile.  Most menus, instead of being plain black text on white, are plain white text on black.  The icons look like they've been pulled from a very old Linux distro (yes, I know that Android is Linux-based, but anyone who's used Ubuntu can tell you that modern Linux distros look way better than Android).  By default, most apps are tucked away on a tray instead of filling the home screen the way the iPhone does.  Indeed, the best-looking Android phones are from HTC, and they have a custom GUI pasted over it just like Windows Mobile.  In fact, the Sense UI they use on Android is actually an evolution of the TouchFLO UI they use with Windows Mobile.  Meanwhile, although many Android phones can be "rooted" to allow third-party app installs, Android is actually a closed platform.  Siding with Android against Windows Mobile means using an OS that's customized in a similar way to hide the fact that it's just as ugly, except that you're trading an open platform for one that ties you to Google services (so they can make money on those ads).  So who's really the evil empire here?

With all that in mind, I've decided to be the opposite of the internet and be anti-Google.  And yes, I realize the irony of declaring this from Google-owned Blogger, but I'm too lazy to move this blog to Wordpress.  But I will go ahead and say that Gmail sucks.  E-mail as conversations is stupid, labels instead of folders are stupid, and the whole thing is a disorganized train wreck.  Google Docs is for people too lazy to download OpenOffice or too cheap to buy Microsoft Office.  And Android is a ugly, basic OS for people who don't want to get an iPhone or Blackberry and who convinced themselves that Google is somehow better than Microsoft.

So what do you guys think?  Am I crazy for actually liking Windows Mobile?  Is Google the sun around which your internet universe revolves?  Sound off in the comments.  Oh, and for the record, I've had three friends now buy a Droid; I'm so unimpressed that I bought an HTC Touch Pro2.


Rick said...

well Mike i can't really comment on the smart phones as i do not have one, nor if i ever do will i own an iphone (fuck i-everythings), nor will i likely use an operating system besides that which is the typical gui for said phone, but i can agree that i'm not sure what the big obsession with google is. sure it's a workable search engine, but uh, so are they all? and as a company i've never understood why anyone blindly devotes loyalty to a company they know next to nothing about. i, as a computer user for many years, hate Microsoft as much as the next guy, but it's not like i'd choose linux or (god forbid) an apple platform instead. and i hated gmail as well just for the record.

Anonymous said...

Mike for the record I just hate you

mitchellangelo said...

I really enjoyed this post. I also don't understand WHY there is so much Mircrosoft hate. I personally am an open person when it come to tech. I have a custom built PC with a windows OS, I use firefox and google as my default search engine, I own an iPhone and iPod, but I dislike macs and mac OSs. But anyway, no, I don't think you're crazy for being different.

Mike said...


Wow... only goat-rapers hate me. It takes a brave person to admit, even anonymously, that they rape goats.

Jeremy said...

I'm not a big fan of anything I either nor a big fan of mac. Mac is outdated and those obsessed with macs are stuck in 2005 before all relevant programs that were mac only became available on PC. Microsoft is okay by me, I rather like there video game systems. I think all opinion on companies should be solely formed on the services and products they provide. I could care less if they use child labor in malyasia to make my cool video game system as long as it saves me a couple bucks and the thing is cool. Besides if we didn't by it then the poor kid would be out a job and probably have to live on the street. In conclusion by what ever the hell you want.

Rough said...

I own a droid. I like it. I do have some complaints about the sensitivity of the touch screen. Sometimes I have to really try to get it to accept the correct letters/link/whatever on the screen, other times it work swimmingly.

The only basis for comparison I have is versus the Blackberry Storm. That piece of shit brick annoyed the hell out of me at times. My biggest complaint was the touch screen. The horizontal layout keyboard was designed to use both hands, so when you used your thumb on the wrong button (or just tried with one hand) it would never use the correct letter. There were also next to 0 good, free application for it. I only had one game that didn't come with the phone. The droid has a huge number of applications, and a lot of good free ones.

My 2 cents.