Two Software Paradigms – Microsoft & Google Compared

Google’s Chrome browser and Chrome OS have introduced an interesting, new, way of managing software. They are continually updating the software and both of them are updated automatically in the background (without user intervention). That is one feature out of many that is divergent. Why? Because software of that scale, Chrome OS, has, historically, been built and shipped.

Microsoft builds a version of Windows, ships it and then patches it with infrequent updates (feature updates, they release lots of security and bug fixes). Whereas, Google built and continues developing the Chrome OS in real-time. In this way, Google treats the OS more like a web app, like GMail, that is updated and improved upon regularly. The difference between the two approaches is that Microsoft’s updates are to fix issues or add minor functionality. Google is updating and adding core features and, presumably, could restructure the entire OS and push that as a live update. There are two fundamentally different approaches here and I want to dive into them.

What we have with Microsoft’s and Google’s approaches are different paradigms of personal computing. It all comes down to the web. Google has whole-heartily committed itself to developing on the web. In this way they embrace the paradigm that software is a service that must continually be developed. On the other hand, Microsoft was founded on a paradigm that software is a product that gets manufactured (Microsoft has brought cloud services to market but, I would argue, they are features tacked on to their products, not web services).

The reason for these two paradigms is the differences in the technology landscape when these two companies were founded. Microsoft was started in 1975 and at that time there was no means to pipe a software update directly to a device. By necessity, Microsoft built and, literally, shipped software. This paradigm was a carry-over process from the manufacturing industry. In manufacturing you build and ship. This approach was natural and software companies of the time should not be blamed. At that time, they didn’t have the internet like it is today and they didn’t fully understand the potential of this new industry.

Google was founded in 1998 as an internet-only company. Their methods were different and the results were desirable. Over time, Google became the stalwart of internet stability. Their success and fame in the early days of the internet probably endowed them with a certain feeling of responsibility to nurture and curate this new platform. It seems, the responsibility encouraged them to be creative and push the envelope. They developed a culture of anything is possible. Because Google was founded as an internet-only company, they were un-tethered by the paradigms of the past. They lived and breathed the internet and that gave them new insight into how things could be done.

The foundations of these two companies are understandable. However, Microsoft helped build the personal computing space. They have been neck-deep in this technology since it began. They don’t have any excuses for ignoring and failing to utilize these innovations. If I may be so bold, it shows an attitude of ignorance and/or arrogance. Microsoft saw the rise of the internet and were partner in bringing access to many people (with Internet Explorer). However, their browser became the laughing-stock of the web development community because they wouldn’t embrace exciting new web standards in a timely manner. It comes back to the paradigm of software as a product. That approach is too slow for the web. Microsoft is a like a shipping barge, they consistently deliver products but they are slow to start and slow to change course.

This post was not intended to be a bash on Microsoft. I don’t have anything against them. In fact, I use Microsoft products. However, the glue that holds my technology together are Google services.

In my previous posts about Google Now and Google Chromebook, I talked about how the future of personal computing is going portable and cloud-based. I recently setup a new computer for myself and am proud to say I’ve made the switch. My technology presence is in the cloud (data, services, etc). I don’t have iTunes and I don’t use Microsoft Office. All of my documents, pictures, music and software are stored in the cloud and synced across my various devices. I can easily access all of my files from anywhere in the world (with the exception of videos, which I store on an external hard drive). I have become a digital nomad.

What has your experience with software been? Do you readily adopt online services or stick to their desktop counterparts?

3 thoughts on “Two Software Paradigms – Microsoft & Google Compared

  1. I think Microsoft has problems, but I don’t think it’s the distribution model. I think it’s poor quality software released too far apart. If the rumor-mill is to be believed, they’re transitioning to smaller, affordable annual updates similar to apples recent strategy.

    Despite my hopes in the past, I don’t think the web is powerful enough yet to really accomplish a full replacement of a well designed, efficiently coded native application.

    1. I could have been more clear in my post. I was trying to get at how Microsoft’s distribution model is a consequence of it’s software paradigm–that software is a product. If they embraced software as a service, as Google and many internet companies have done, they would, hopefully, realize a streamlined output cycle (it seems they may be moving to this model already).

      I agree that the web isn’t yet powerful enough for such applications (think: Photoshop). However, it can be used as a portal for making those native applications that much more connected and up-to-date as Google has done with it’s update distribution model for Chrome OS and the Chrome browser.

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