Google vs Microsoft Office Battle: opportunity or minefield for Startups?

Nicholas Carr “comments on the coverage”:http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/08/the_googlemicro.php of Google’s “newly introduced suite of Office-style applications”:http://www.google.com/press/pressrel/gafyd.html noting that the focus on the “Google vs Microsoft” theme that runs through most of the discussion overshadows the more interesting story:

bq. the biggest threat is to neither Google nor Microsoft but to every other company hoping to get a foothold in the broad market for personal productivity applications

It’s an important point to make, but I don’t necessarily agree. This battle between giants isn’t good for any startup who wants to be the Microsoft of the personal productivity applications space, but it could be a great thing for startups who would be happy to be acquired by Google or Microsoft. Both Microsoft and Google ordinarily have a strong Not Invented Here streak that bias them against outside acquisitions, but in this battle both of them have strong incentives to be pragmatic.

For Microsoft, defending the Office cash-cow is important, moreso because it provides an important foundation for their their “Live” strategy. They need to move quickly, so they’ll be inclined to buy companies that will give them a head start. They also need to be defensive, by denying Google access to companies that would help them either close a gap with Microsoft, or open up an existing lead even further.

Similarly, Google, having entered this fight of its own will, will be disinclined to loose, so they’ll be looking for acquisitions (like Writely) that will help them both defensively and offensively.

As long as Google and Microsoft are battling over this space, there will be an opportunity for appropriately focused startups to acheive quick ROI via acquistion, but the founders should fully expect their personal vision to be sacrified to the strategy of their acquirer.

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