We seem to have reached one of those pivotal moments that come along every so often where the big three--Google, Microsoft and Apple-are fighting particularly hard to gain a dominant position. Of course, this is a constant battle, but for some reason it feels more acute to me lately.
Maybe that's because the mobile space has taken on a new sense of urgency for all three companies. For the time being, it appears that Microsoft is a step or two behind, while Google and Apple battle for the spoils, but as we know, Microsoft has the resources to catch up in a hurry.
With this back-drop in mind, I thought it might be interesting to look at the strengths of each company.
Microsoft: Kings of the Desktop
Microsoft has always been a desktop software company. Its key products are Windows and Office, and even though, it's moving to the cloud, the company's core business remains focused firmly on the desktop. Microsoft also has a big advantage over Apple and Google in the Enterprise software business with popular offerings like Exchange and Sharepoint. So far at least, neither Apple nor Google can compete with these products.
Apple: Consumer/Retail Leaders
Apple knows how to build attractive products that work well. Consumer products like the iPod and iPhone fly off the shelves, even though they cost substantially more than competing products. Apple Stores have also been tremendously successful and the company's marketing machine is the envy of the industry. Although, Apple has tried to compete in the enterprise, it has never found the type of success there that Microsoft has.
Apple has also dominated in ventures like the App Store and iTunes. The recent purchase of Lala suggests the company may be making a play for the cloud, but so far at least, it's not a major part of the central strategy.
Google: Controlling the Cloud
Google has helped define cloud computing. They have pulled together a set of tools like GMail, Google Docs, Bookmarks, Google Reader and others that provide a way for users to access their information wherever they have an internet connection, regardless of the device or platform. This convenience has great allure and Google's power and popularity has continued to grow.
While it has some enterprise products, the bulk of its business by far is on the consumer side, and Google doesn't offer much of a threat to Microsoft's domination there.
Mobile Computing: Brave New World
Meanwhile, mobile computing offers a new frontier for all three companies. Microsoft seems to have stumbled here due to a bad release of Windows Mobile at a crucial time, but with version 7.0 due out this year, it could make a come back, especially with users who are looking for smooth integration with Windows 7. Press reports have Google and Apple building toward a war of sorts over the mobile business, but Eric Schmidt said the other night that that Apple "holds a special place in his heart."
We'll see how special, but he downplayed any growing tension between the two companies. Let's not forget Apple has a big announcement coming out on Wednesday and that could shake things up a bit too, but for now the big three continue to maneuver like three powerful race cars moving down the track at break neck speed, trying desperately to get the edge. All we can do is sit back and watch the action and see what happens.