Years ago, I purchased a Microsoft Zune music player, and later became frustrated that it wouldn’t work with a Macintosh desktop or notebook—unless I ran Windows in a virtual machine. That’s because Microsoft chose not to support any platform other than Windows.
It’s a familiar story.
Over the decades, Microsoft’s support for non-Microsoft platforms has been shoddy at best. Older version of SharePoint did not work well with Macs. Office for the Mac was a long-inferior product, and still doesn’t include applications like OneNote or Access. Internet Explorer for the Mac was discontinued in 2005.
It’s bad enough for Mac owners who want to play in Microsoft’s walled garden. If you run Linux notebooks, desktops or servers, you are almost entirely ignored by Microsoft to this day.
In mobile, however, it’s a whole different world. Microsoft loves, loves, loves Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android. On phones, Microsoft now believes in openness. Open is good. Closed is bad.
Thus, it’s with no small amount of schadenfreude that I read the Aug. 15 blog post, “The limits of Google’s openness,” from David Howard, Corporate Vice President & Deputy General Counsel, Litigation & Antitrust, Microsoft.
You should read the post, but to summarize the issue: Google has written native YouTube apps for iOS and Android, but not for Windows Phone. Microsoft had created a not-so-great YouTube app for Windows Phone, and then wrote a better one. The new app relied upon Google’s secured YouTube APIs. Google didn’t like the app and blocked its access to the APIs by revoking its encryption key. The issues apparently are that Microsoft’s app doesn’t display ads correctly, that Microsoft’s app isn’t written in HTML5, and that Microsoft shouldn’t say “YouTube” in the app’s name.
Howard writes, “It seems to us that Google’s reasons for blocking our app are manufactured so that we can’t give our users the same experience Android and iPhone users are getting. The roadblocks Google has set up are impossible to overcome, and they know it.”
Yes, Microsoft is crying foul, claiming a double standard that favors Google’s own access to YouTube. Specifically, that Google hasn’t documented the APIs properly, and that Google’s own iOS and Android apps aren’t HTML5 either.
It’s clear that Microsoft doesn’t like being treated by Google the way that Microsoft itself has treated other companies for decades.
Let’s stop and enjoy Microsoft’s “do as I say, not as I do” stance for a few minutes.
There are some other issues, beyond Microsoft and Google spitting on each other, that are suggested by this kerfuffle:
• What are the obligations of mobile platform makers to support competing platforms? For example, Microsoft seems to be asking for first-class access to one of Google’s most popular services. Does Google have an obligation to permit this?
• What are the obligations for controlling who uses Web APIs? In this case, Google is apparently asserting that it can decide on the features and functions of third-party software that uses its APIs—and even dictate which programming language such software is written in. Is that reasonable?
For years Microsoft used private APIs to ensure that software like Office ran better on Windows than competing products. Google is playing the same game. Microsoft says that’s not fair. Who is right? Share your thoughts at email@example.com.
Alan Zeichick, founding editor of SD Times, is principal analyst of Camden Associates.