Thursday, October 06, 2005

Sun and Google PR Hype: Much Ado About Nothing

Other than a few online journalists-cum-analysts who posted breathless previews of the highly over-hyped Sun Microsystems/Google press conference of 10/4/2005, most experienced tech reporters and bloggers shared ZDNet's Jennifer Guevin's opinion: "Google and Sun deal: That's It?" In other words, "Where's the Meat?" Here's a link to a five-minute video of the non-event, which features an uncomfortable Scott McNealy and a wary Eric Schmidt.

Note: One of the linked posts reports that "Google doesn't even think it's big enough to warrant putting out their own press release." Heres the link to the Google press release.

Full Disclosure: I make my living by consulting on, programming with, and writing about Microsoft operating systems, relational database management systems (including Microsoft Office Access 2003 and earlier), programming platforms (.NET), and languages (Transact-SQL, VB.NET, VB.COM, and VBA).

Network, Cable and Satellite TV Media

What suprised me was the amount of network, cable, and satellite TV preview coverage of this technological non-event. Media coverage of the lack of the press conference's substance or significance in follow-up pieces was conspicious by its absence in most of the following stories:

BBC News gushed: "Google and Sun want Office users," despite no indication that I can find so far that Google has a particular hankering for Microsoft Office users; Google wants all Internet and desktop users. Here's the BBC story's lead:

Google and Sun Microsystems have joined forces to challenge the dominance of Microsoft's Office software.

Google aims to "explore opportunities to promote" Sun's OpenOffice software. Those downloading Sun's Java program will be offered Google's toolbar.

A BBC "Google-Sun alliance hints at future deals" analysis by Jorn Madslien begins wth this overblown conclusion from unnamed sources (a.k.a. "some quarters"):
The fresh alliance between Google and Sun Microsystems is seen in some quarters as perhaps the toughest threat yet to Microsoft's dominance as the world's leader in the personal computer software market. Under the agreement, Sun is being paid an undisclosed sum to add Google's browser toolbar to its Java software. Sun will also buy Google advertising space.

Is Google chief Schmidt just being nice to his former boss? Under the agreement, Sun is being paid an undisclosed sum to add Google's browser toolbar to its Java software. Sun will also buy Google advertising space. Google, in return, has vowed to "explore opportunities to promote and enhance" the Sun-backed open-source software OpenOffice and Sun's Java software, as well as buying some Sun hardware and software.

Google revenue comes from selling advertising space. Sun gains no income from the Java runtime or OpenOffice. Google, who's been on a PR roll since it's original IPO, wins again: Sun might try to convert the heathen, but Google will sell the bibles. One sure-fire revenue source is selling Google Toolbars with customized options to download software—free or otherwise. Sun's only revenue potential is upgrades from OpenOffice to SunOffice subscriptions. Considering Microsoft's problems enticing Office users to upgrade, Jonathan Schwartz, Sun's CEO, has his work cut out for him. Madslien takes a breath with this observation, presumably from "other quarters:"

Tuesday's announcement fell far short of offering a real alternative to Office, which accounts for more than 40% of Microsoft's operating profit - mainly because Google failed to go the whole way and offer OpenOffice as an internet service or as a download for the 80 million people who use Google each month.

... So far, this possibility remains purely hypothetical. Critics observe that Google's chief executive Eric Schmidt was notably keen to stress that Tuesday's agreement did not involve such cooperation with Sun.

Imagine your online-hosted "G[oogle]Office" documents adorned with sponsored links to advertisers of products related to the content of your Open Document Format XML file.

MSNBC offers a link to an AP release with a typically misleading title: "Google steps up offensive against Microsoft: Web-search giant teams with Sun Micro to offer alternative to Office suite." MSNBC's other link to the Seattle Post Intelligencer article—"New alliance sees opportunities vs. Microsoft"—includes this lead:

Google and Sun Microsystems caused a stir Tuesday with the mere hint that they could be positioning themselves to jointly challenge the dominance of Microsoft Corp.'s Office programs. The companies announced that they would "explore opportunities" to promote and distribute each other's technologies -- including Google's search toolbar and, an open-source Microsoft Office rival based on Sun technology.
I haven't been able to find any evidence that Google intends to distribute anything from

KNTV, the San Francisco Bay Area NBC affiliate, ran a preview story on the October 3, 2005 morning news and provides a link to an earlier AP article that was updated for share prices. On October 4, a morning news reporter read a sound-byte that mentioned the lack of substance of the press conference.

CBS News offers an abbreviated version of a later AP piece as "Google, Sun Challenge Microsoft's Office". Fox News has a similar version.

KPIX, the San Francisco Bay Areal CBS Affliate, drank the AP KoolAid and classified the wire service's longer "Google Teaming Up With Sun To Take On Microsoft" story as "Top News." The KPIX local news team ran a 3 to 4 minute segment at about 6:40 pm on October 5, 2005 that lead with: "In a few years you won't use Microsoft Office. The reporter went on to say that Google's no longer a just a search engine, but is moving in on Microsoft and posing a threat with the potential to distribute software. In an interview, Tim Miller—vice-president of the 451 Group—opined that Google is the "favorite of young users", "Microsoft takes years to to create a new operating system, and Google does it in months." Miller concluded that "Users will drop Windows and run Google applications from the Internet." The reporter signed off with the conclusion that the Google/Sun agreement will cause "lots of new job to move into the Bay Area."

ABC News posted a brief "The World Today" transcript: "Google-Sun Coalition challenges Microsoft" and a Reuters wirestory: "Sun, Google in software distribution pact." If you call including the Google Toolbar with Java runtime downloads "software distibution," the Reuters head gains a bit of credibility Bloomberg News added its contribution to the "distribution of Sun's" rumor in "Google, Sun to Challenge Microsoft With OpenOffice (Update5)." In the second paragraph the unnamed reporter says:

Google will distribute Sun's software for personal computers, the companies said at a press conference in Google's home town of Mountain View, California today. Some downloaded Sun programs also will include Google's toolbar.

This sentence appears later in the article: "He [Google CEO Schmidt] wouldn't say if Google's toolbar would link to"

CNN Money's Amanda Cantrell wrote an original story: "Google and Sun joining forces: Firms to forge partnership that will offer alternative to Microsoft products." Her well-researched story includes direct quotations from technology and financial analysts, but still carries the "replacement for Microsoft Office theme."

PBS's Robert X. Cringely's "Meeting Over a Cup of Java" column summed up the conference on October 6, 2005: "Sun and Google stood together in front of the press this week and said, well, not much at all beyond Sun bundling Google's toolbar with Java." PBS's Cringely—not InfoWorld's Cringely—went on to analyze the relative positions of Google, Sun, and Microsoft in a Web services-centric future.

Conventional "Old Media" - Trade and Financial Press, Newspapers

Back to traditional web, print, and blog "journalism."

ZDNet's Special Report page has links to mostly wild-eyed prognostication of the end of Microsoft Office's hegemony in the enterprise and Google/Sun "cutting off Microsoft's air supply." George Ou's "Who would actually use web based Office?" and Phil Wainewright's "What Google is really up to" blog posts appear to me to be the most interesting and well-thought-out of this bunch.

EWeek's David Coursey casts a similar jaundiced eye on the press conference in his "The World Wants a Challenging Google-Sun Alliance" op-ed piece. Follow the links in Coursey's piece for more analysis of the Google-Sun agreement. Linux & Open Source columnist Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols' "Google-Sun Partnership Falls Short of Hopes" piece carries this deck: "Opinion: We were hoping for the next great moment in office software. We got 'Google Toolbar as an option in its consumer downloads of the Java Runtime Environment.'"

InfoWorld's Elizabeth Montalbano (IDG New Service) wrote a balanced piece—Google, Sun tout software deal, hint at services—that emphasizes the lack of press conference details on plans for distribution of OpenOffice or any other activities aside from incorporating the Google Toolbar in JRE downloads. On the other hand, Ephraim Schwartz, who writes InfoWorld's "Reality Check" column loses touch with reality in his "Is a Web-based office suite on the way? piece, subtitled "A one-two punch of open source and on-demand from Google and Sun could knock out Microsoft Office." Schwartz quotes Burlington Coat Factory CIO Michael Prince: "Burlington Coat Factory has saved anywhere from 300 percent to 500 percent by using StarOffice instead of Microsoft Office, Prince says, and so far it has worked flawlessly, including reading macros from Excel, PowerPoint, and Word documents." 300 percent to 500 percent of what appears nowhere in the article. The only dollar amount in the piece is Burlington's $3 billion in (presumably annual) revenue. Does anyone copy-edit InfoWorld columnists' contributions? Is Schwartz performing a surreptitious reality check on his readers?

San Jose Mercury News writer Theresa Poletti quotes Forrester Research analyst John Rymer in her "Google, Sun form alliance" article: "The idea that Google will turn around and redistribute OpenOffice is nuts. When they do something, it has to be cool. It has to go further than Microsoft Office. It would have to address the way we work." Mike Langberg rehashes Scott McNealy's anti-Microsoft weltanschauung in "Hinting at a future without Microsoft." Dawn C. Chmielewski adds the seemingly obligatory OpenOffice spin in "Free OpenOffice isn't obscure anymore."

Canada's Globe and Mail reporter Matthew Ingram compares Google's threat to Microsoft with that from Netscape and Java in the late 1990s in "Taking on Microsoft" (Requires paid registration. However, you can read the entire story in the comments to PC World's "Google-Sun Webcast: No Google Office Today" blog item, or read Google's cached version.) Here's the last paragraph of Ingram's October 4, 2005 story:

Although the details of the Sun-Google partnership were less exciting than some of the speculation in advance of the announcement, the reality is that if anyone can make the Internet-based software application business work -- and thereby become the threat that Microsoft has worried about for 10 years -- it is Google. Where Netscape was a small startup trying to survive financially, Google has a market value approaching $100-billion (U.S.) and yet gives its main product away for free. And in contrast to the 1990s, broadband access to the Internet is now widely available, and users are more comfortable with Web-based applications. How does Microsoft compete?

I haven't found any evidence that "users are more comfortable with Web-based" word-processing, spreadsheet, presentation, or database applications. Neither, apparently, has open-source advocate Vaughan-Nichols. InfoWorld's "Microsoft adapting to Web platform, execs say" article quotes Microsoft Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie at the Web 2.0 Conference:

Moreover, it's wrong to think that, for example, Office in its entirety will be migrated to the Web, Ozzie said. Some applications lend themselves to a Web treatment, such as e-mail, while others don't, he said.

"What customers are trying to get is a really good user experience for what they're trying to accomplish. For some things -- mail is a great example -- the Web is actually a good mechanism for accomplishing what we might not have in the beginning envisioned might be possible. So some of those things are going to find their way out," he said.

But other applications that are very rich in functionality may not be good candidates for that. "I'm not a big believer that things are going to go all the way one way or all the way the other way," Ozzie said. "Office will change because of the presence of the Internet and its capabilities, but it will be [gradual]."

With Office, Microsoft will steadily try to understand what functionality can be offered via a Web browser and what requires richer client-side software, Ozzie said.

Microsoft undoubtedly will continue to complete, presumably with a substantially upgraded Office 12 suite running under Windows XP or Vista.

Forbes' brief "Sun, Google Deal Announcement Seen As 'Overblown'" piece hits the nail on the head by quoting Standard & Poor's Equity Research: "We believe that this heavily promoted [Sun and Google] announcement is overblown, and does not represent a real definitive product threat to Microsoft's Office." According to Forbes, S&P reiterated a "strong buy" on Microsoft's stock.

New York Times' Dan Mitchell writes "No News Is Good Blogging" and quotes John Battelle as saying the press conference was "a lot of hand-waving about sharing and working together." As another hand-waving example, Java Industry News carried an interview with Sun's Director of Java Desktop Engineering, Thorsten Laux.

The Register ran "Google Sun (Office) not a threat, says MS" and The Scotsman's Bill Magee wrote "Microsoft queries Google-Sun link".

Dave Winer chimes in with a post—"Editorial: Google diversifies, opportunity for upstarts"—that likens Google's current diversification program to repeating Alta Vista's missteps that lead to Google's success. Dave also takes Google to task for Blogster's support of Atom rather than RSS.

Om Malik offers this succinct summary—"Cheap Publicity Ploy:"

The Google-Sun announcement in the end turned out to be nothing…. or as someone just said on the IM. “Let’s do something useless so we can say we did something so Sun can get some press because we’re dying slowly…” Harsh but true, given all the speculation, which was nothing more than chatter of the worst kind. All of us are looking for shapes in shadows, including me….. sigh! call me slow, but I am not sure how AP is coming up with the Open Office conclusion with this JRE announcement.
I'm not sure either, Om, but plenty of media news sites based their stories on the AP piece. I heard only one local Bay Area TV station point out the lack of substance in the non-event of the month. None of my computers have the Sun JRE installed. I haven't found the need to install the JRE, nor have I encountered problems with any sites I visit regularly.


Last updated: November 18, 2005


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