This one’s a classic in the never-ending Google vs. Microsoft saga. Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer met with business students at Stanford University only to bash Google during the Q&A. He said things like, “Google built one very good business. They only have one thing they do. Everything else is sort of cute.” And in response to Google’s growth plan: “They are trying to double in a year… That’s insane in my opinion.”
Perhaps the funniest part of the story is that Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt was close by during the thrashing; he was eating lunch at the business school’s cafeteria.
But Ballmer’s no dummy; his Google to Microsoft comparisons are relatively accurate even if embelished at times. He explained how there are basically four stages in business: coming up with an idea, getting it to critical mass, milking it financially, and then finding a new idea.
“Google is in the part of the cycle where they are milking,” he said, calling it the fun stage. “That was the ’90s for us…or I would say the ’80s and ’90s.”
But that’s not to say that Microsoft hasn’t had plenty of milking of its own. Ballmer mentioned that Microsoft is focused on expanding its Internet and consumer businesses: “We’re a two-trick pony, and that’s rare in the history of business. Desktop software was a trick. Server was a trick. Our third trick is trying to do online, and our fourth trick is trying to do consumer electronics,” citing the new Zune music player during his explanation. “In a sense, I see kind of a “positive” in all of these areas.”
And his reference to Google doing “cute” things is apparently more of a compliment, “We do a lot of things that are cute, too. I’ll tell you about our robotics effort, for example, but that’s not paying for me to come down to Stanford.”
In the end, the irony is that Google is now in a similar situation to the Microsoft of 10-20 years ago. And I think that makes Ballmer more concerned than happy.