Steve Ballmer: Microsoft just can’t compete with Google

September 22, 2013 - Written By Randy Arrowood

No, that title is not a quote from the article where Steve Ballmer called Google a monopoly, that’s my summary. And it’s an accurate summary. Let’s take a look at the one key quote from the post, and then I’m going to tell you why Steve Ballmer wants the government to do what Microsoft can’t: bring Google to its knees.

“I do believe that Google’s practices are worthy of discussion with competition authority, and we have certainly discussed them with competition authorities,” said Ballmer. “I don’t think their practices are getting less meritorious of discussion.”

Now isn’t the time to discuss Android, because that isn’t what Steve is crying about in this particular discussion. He’s torqued up because, in spite of the Scroogled campaign and the Bing It On Challenge, Google still owns search, and the highly lucrative search ad business that goes along with it.

When Bing was nothing but a glimmer in Steve’s eye, Google had about 70% of the search market. Now, Bing has risen from nothing to about 18% share, while Google maintains its 67% of searches. The best that Microsoft has been able to accomplish is taking share from AOL, Yahoo, Ask and all of the other irrelevant players in search while Google continues to do what Google does.

All of the negative campaigning notwithstanding, Google is winning and Microsoft, well, they aren’t quite losing, they’re just not picking up the lucrative search and ad business that they need to be a serious contender for Google’s top spot.

Google isn’t a monopoly, it’s a choice
Go to the nearest store to you that sells computers. Any one of them will do, but we’ll look at Best Buy as my example. Every Best Buy that I walk into has a neat little corner of the computer section set up to sell Apple computers, and then a gigantic section that sells Windows-based desktop and laptop computers. Of all the computers on sale at Best Buy that aren’t Chromebooks, exactly 0% of them come with Google set as the default search engine, or with Chrome preinstalled as a browser option. Not one.

When I got my Asus Ultrabook a couple of months ago I found the latest version of Internet Explorer, Microsoft News, Microsoft Finance, Microsoft Sports, Microsoft SkyDrive, Microsoft Photos, Microsoft Office and on and on all pre-installed and prominently displayed on the Start Page. Microsoft, Microsoft, Microsoft. All Microsoft. Microsoft was even kind enough to set Bing as my default search engine, with none of the other search providers even installed.

Nothing about the computer included anything to do with Google, and all of the defaults for every feature and function of the computer were set to Microsoft.

Like so many people do, the first thing that I did to my new Windows laptop was I installed Chrome and removed the Bing search app from the computer. I installed the Google search provider for IE, and then I uninstalled the Bing search provider. I spent about 15 minutes installing Google apps and services, and uninstalling Bing. It was my choice. Google didn’t make me do it, I wanted to do it.

Choice isn’t a monopoly
Utopia means different things to different people, but the free market utopia is providing consumers a choice, and then letting them make that choice. It works really well for a lot of companies. Coke and Pepsi. McDonalds and Burger King. Chevrolet and Honda. Google and Microsoft? Well, not so much. At least not if you’re Microsoft.

The deck is absolutely stacked in Microsoft’s favor. 70% or so of all computers sold run Windows, and as I’ve already established, that’s Bing’s home turf. Microsoft still can’t win because people want and choose Google. That’s not a monopoly, that’s choice.

Bundled services aren’t a monopoly either
Bundling YouTube and Google Maps, whether that’s on Android or in the browser isn’t a monopoly either. Just as Microsoft has a wide range of services in their online offerings, so does Google. The difference? Google’s products are popular and the stuff from Microsoft isn’t.

I know, the complaint is that Google favors its own properties in the results that it returns to users, often placing their own products and services at the top of the first page of results. It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that isn’t how Google Search works at all. Funnily enough, if you do the same search for email on Bing, see who pops up first.

It’s no more a monopoly for Google to have Chrome, Search, Gmail, Maps, Google+, Drive or Android than it is for Microsoft to have Windows,, Maps, SkyDrive, Office and Windows Phone. Google is just better at giving people what they want while Microsoft remains the best at, well, crying about second place.

Parting shot
You might normally think that of all companies, Microsoft knows what a monopolist looks like. Without total abuse of their own monopoly power in the past, Microsoft wouldn’t be where they are in the present. The flaw in the logic presented by Steve Ballmer is assuming that the only way to achieve dominance in the market is to abuse your position in that market to inhibit competition. That’s the Microsoft way.

There’s a better way, and while Google may not be as pure as the driven snow, they’ve been more consumer and competitor friendly than Microsoft could imagine being themselves. That’s led to the consumer choosing Google, even though that choice involves actively seeking out and installing Google products or changing search providers manually.

Microsoft has never experienced head-to-head competition with a market leader like Google in their history. Bing proves one thing clearly: Microsoft can’t compete. Neither the Department of Justice nor the Federal Trade Commission can make people choose Microsoft over Google, and that’s tough nuts for Microsoft.