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Comparing Apple, Google and Microsoft

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A Gartner webinar (PDF) compares three major players in the software industry today - Apple, Google and Microsoft –, trying to see where they stand today, and how IT decisions will be affected by their competition with each other. TheOpenSourcery compared the same companies from a different perspective: agility and openness.

Tom Austin, VP & Gartner Fellow, and David Mitchell Smith, VP & Gartner Fellow, have held a webinar (PDF) entitled “Google vs. Microsoft: The Battle for Future Dominance (and Apples Sneak Attack)” (registration required), comparing Apple vs. Google vs. Microsoft, what are their main characteristics, the financial present status and future prospects, how they are seen in the enterprise, how their main products compare with each other, and how IT decisions will be influenced by the confrontation between these companies.

Tom Austin emphasized the following characteristics about Apple:

  • Apple is a consumer oriented company. They take consumerization to the extremes, having a secondary interest in the enterprise.
  • Apple is focused on design and user experience.
  • Two major OSes: Mac OS X and iOS.
  • iOS uses two different platforms: App Store, which is closed and strictly controlled, and HTML5 which is an open technology Apple contributes to.
  • There are rumors about Apple building their own cloudy data center.
  • They are also trying the waters in the advertising business in response to Google’s entrance in the mobile space.

About Google, Tom Austin said among others:

  • Google is in the business of democratizing information
  • They are focused on the “next 2 billion” users. Enterprise is secondary for Google.
  • They are very concerned with what could be a potential roadblock in reaching their goals: the network providers, the RIA solution providers such as Microsoft with Silverlight, OS providers – Microsoft, Apple-, anyone that might interfere with Google’s ability to monetize information display via advertising.
  • Google is a radical innovator, building an entire new cloud-based infrastructure.
  • Google’s search infrastructure, which is used by other services, is built from zero. They have designed their own motherboards, they use their own networking solutions, dispatching mechanisms to distribute work over hundreds of thousands or even millions of machines across the world. Because of this technology, Austin considers them the “cloud computing leader”.

David Mitchell Smith said about Microsoft:

  • They are in the business of democratizing technology. A “PC in every home was the company’s vision for a long time”, and they have achieved that.
  • They have also targeted the enterprise and managed to do well.
  • They are a platform company, creating “ecosystems around things and to make money from them”
  • They’ve been trying to expand beyond Windows and Office, entering the search and advertising market, stepping on Google’s toes. As a response Google has started an asymmetric war by entering into the enterprise and the OS business, in order to force Microsoft to concentrate on those areas and lose focus on search and advertising. The war is asymmetric because Microsoft uses a lot more money than Google to win enterprise customers.
  • Unlike Google which starts projects then easily throws them away if they are not embraced by potential users, Microsoft is very persistent to do things right, managing that usually “on the third try”.

According to Austin and Smith, both Microsoft and Google are doing well financially, but none of them is growing, so they are looking for opportunities for growth. While Microsoft wants a share of the search and ads business, and another in cloud computing, Google’s plans are not so predictable. They have built an entire array of tools – Chrome, Check-out, Analytics, YouTube, Search, GMail, etc.-, and they have access to a large amount of people’s data – IP, location, search history, websites visited, videos watched, tweets, etc., leading the Gartner analysts to think how Google could monetize the “democratization of information” by using “social and demographic trends, behavioral targeting, implicit social profiles, personal preferences”, all using “creeping details” of users.

Apple’s story is different because they have had strong growth for the last few years. The iPod, iPhone and iPad are all showing signs of health and creating increasing profit for the company.

Following is Gartner’s study on how enterprises perceive these three companies:


TheOpenSourcery compared Apple, Google, and Microsoft from a different point of view, software development agility and openness as perceived from the outside. Apple is seen as secretive, with long-term iterations, but with the ability to react swiftly if necessary:

Apple – general directions but no declaration of the overall plan’s detail and steps. Rather the opposite, those details are kept ultra-secretive. Thus testing and co-designing with clients and customers is also kept ultra secretive. The cycle for major updates is generally one year but Apple can deliver in considerably less time a major upgrade or fix as has been seen in the iPhone and iPad in recent times.

Google gets a mixed review: sometimes is very open, and sometimes can be secretive as Apple:

Google – also provides general directions and has introduced and then after 1- or 2 iterations walked away from, redirected, or postponed work on major projects. Two examples are Google Wave and the Nexus One Smartphone. Google has a mixed record on being open about the detailed plan; some projects are explicit and others are as secretive as Apple. However, once a basic API is revealed, the project becomes more open. Often clients are invited early to do beta testing [think Google Books and Google Maps] and are surveyed for their reactions to the software. The projects tend to have short update cycles of 3-6 months [think Android and Google Docs] but this may be after a longer 1 year or greater first gestation period.

Microsoft is sometimes open and has long development cycles:

Microsoft – also provides strategic planning and directions. Its Windows continuum was renewed once again by Steve Ballmer at the CES 2011 show with one significant departure – instead of being exclusively an Intel x86 platform choice, Microsoft has added the ARM CPU+System architecture. But the OS will be Windows 7 not Windows Phone 7 [which is built on largely the same language tools but has some novel OS design and implementation methods].
Like Google, Microsoft can be mixed on how the detailed plan is  implemented – sometimes open and other times ultra secretive. But Microsoft almost always has a substantial beta processes sometimes eliciting the participation of thousands of users and some prestigious early client/organizational adopters. However, Microsoft software generally has very long delivery cycles measured in years. Typical is the recent Windows cycle which from XP to Vista was 4-5 years and Windows 7 to Windows 8 looks like 2-3 years. Even the Windows 7 upgrade for from Vista to 7 was well more than a year. Even for smaller software projects like the IE browser the Microsoft development cycle is very long: IE6 to IE7 took 6++ years. Even after Bill Gates promised a faster update cycle after IE7, IE8 took 2++ years, IE9 appears to be keeping that same 2 year cycle.

Each company has its strengths and weaknesses. They are all going to be around for a long time, but it is pretty hard to predict their evolution. If one chooses to go either with Apple, Google or Microsoft, a good advice is to avoid vendor lock-in if possible.

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