Microsoft vs. the World (Or Maybe Just Google)

By August 28, 2013
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microsoft

Microsoft might finally be ready to play nice, but is it too late? Google seems to think so.

Microsoft has taken a beating over the years for not playing nice with their competitors. From outdated editions of the Office suite on non-Windows platforms to bugs that could decimate countless iPods before they bothered to patch, MS hasn’t been known for pandering to companies who they perceived could potentially be raiding the piggy banks of the very consumers that they’re trying to please. Sure, all companies do this to some extent, but Microsoft has had an anti-competitive streak that would put even some of history’s most famous warlords to shame.

But I’m not here to give Microsoft a guilt trip about their spotted past as a schoolyard bully. Over the past few years, they’ve been working to make amends [discounting their current fumbles with the Xbox One, but that’s another discussion for another day] so when people mention their name, it won’t be so tempting to refer to them as “M$.”

You can find versions of the new cloud-based Office suite on nearly every platform: PC, Mac, iPhone, Android, and, of course, Windows Phone. The Xbox enhancement/remote software, SmartGlass, as well as their cloud storage app, SkyDrive, can be found on all of these platforms. They’ve cast their net wide to catch users no matter where they reside. Compared to their nearly elitist “Only for Windows” releases of yesteryear, it feels as if Microsoft is making a conscious effort to turn things around.

I’d say they’re offering the olive branch, but their recent dealings with Google pretty firmly illustrate that isn’t quite true. Regardless of who struck first, it’s the end user getting hurt by their abusive relationship. It may have started as a simple versus battle of “Bing vs Google” in the “Bing It On” challenge, but things got heated pretty fast.

Microsoft’s recent “Scroogled” campaign was likely what truly set the battlefield alight. In February, MS made a pointed – and technically true – allegation that Google was repeatedly violating their users’ privacy for the sake of their pocketbooks by scanning the text content of e-mails to serve up “content relevant” ads. This effort might have been seen as more of a “concerned for the consumer” effort had it not been so closely tied to the revamped Outlook.com service. To be fair, though: what’s the point in making an issue known, and not offering a solution?

Google

Google was steamed enough over the whole Scroogled situation, but appeared to take it in stride. From the end of their blog post in response to the campaign: “We’ve always believed the facts should inform our marketing—and that it’s best to focus on our users rather than negative attacks on other companies. Onwards!”

The real meat of the situation lies within the battle to get a proper YouTube application on Windows Phone and in the Windows 8/RT Store. Here’s the situation: Microsoft made a YouTube app with basic functionality, plus three bonus features: users could view videos on mobile even if the creator blocked it from online viewing, plus they could download videos for offline viewing, and the app was completely ad-free. None of these added features made Google particularly happy.

MS was then sent a cease and desist demand to stop distribution of the app, because the offline viewing and lack of ads “cuts off a valuable ongoing revenue source for creators and causes harm to the thriving content ecosystem on YouTube.” Though these words do ring true, apparently the ad-free portion happened for a perfectly valid reason, per Microsoft: “We’d be more than happy to include advertising but need Google to provide us access to the necessary APIs. In light of [Google CEO] Larry Page’s comments today calling for more interoperability and less negativity, we look forward to solving this matter together for our mutual customers.”

Both Microsoft and Google appear, publicly, to want to work together amicably. Privately, this does not seem to be the case. The original version of the YouTube app was pulled, as instructed on May 22nd of this year. August 13th, just two weeks ago, the new version of the app was released. It looked, essentially, like the same app that had been pulled, minus the offending features. Once again, it had a bonus feature: a rudimentary upload feature, with more caveats than any one emptor should need to abide. This time, Google was so infuriated by the release that they pulled Microsoft’s API entirely, making the app utterly useless. You can still download the app, but it can’t connect to anything.

YouTube

Google’s reasons for the API pull were numerous, but onerous. In a nutshell, here was the list: 1) The app was not coded in HTML5.

2) The app shows ads, but not the right ones. [Per Microsoft, they don’t have access to the part of the API that allows them to collect the information to make this possible]

3) Microsoft has broken the API’s terms and conditions. [Microsoft is certain this is because the app isn’t coded in HTML5 as requested.]

4) The app should not be called “YouTube”, because as a product, YouTube belongs to Google and this is a form of misrepresentation.

5) The app offers a ‘degraded experience’.

All seem like valid complaints until you consider Microsoft’s side of the story:

1) No other YouTube app [including Google’s own ones on iOS and Android] are coded in HTML5, thus breaking their own rule.

2) Microsoft says they don’t have access to the part of the API that allows them to collect the information to make posting the ‘right’ ads possible.

3) See #1. Why should Microsoft be the only one who must follow this restriction if it’s in the API T&C?

4) What about all of the unofficial YouTube apps for all platforms that call themselves things like ‘YouTube+’, ‘YouTube HD’, and the like? Plus, nothing was said about the original MS created YouTube app. Why is it an issue now, when it was not before?

5) It offers better features than even Google’s own YouTube apps, but more importantly, better than the original app that MS published back in 2010. What about the experience is degraded? Microsoft says that Google was very unclear on this.

Needless to say, Google seems to be examining Microsoft with laser-like precision, when other YouTube clients – including their own – don’t undergo the same scrutiny. To be sure, there might be more to Google’s side of the story that isn’t clear to us. We only know what each of them is willing to tell us. Meanwhile, they seem to be content to kick sand at each other while we are the ones getting it in our eyes.

Here’s hoping they work through their issues. We don’t need a repeat of the Apple/Google Maps fiasco from last year…but I think it’s best to pick up some safety goggles, just in case.

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Bryan is a tech and gadget geek, as well as a fan of media in all its forms. Film, music, games, you name it. He also has a deep love for nearly all things indie, because sometimes the little fish have the biggest adventures. You can find him as @DieselBT pretty much anywhere on the internet.