The just-concluded conference of developers in Microsoft focused on privacy and trust. Yet, despite multiple occasions, the company took almost no jabs at its Googles arch-rival. Why is Microsoft so hesitant to use privacy as a competitive instrument?
Every week when Microsoft and Google hold dueling developer conferences, every announcement and every product choice is tentative to look like a left jab or right cross in an endless competition between the two tech giants. This is certainly the natural instinct in analyzing the decision of Microsoft to make the privacy of its corporate message at this week’s Building Developers conference.
CEO Satya Nadella of Microsoft opened a vision keynote for his Build 2019 Day 1 with the words “Privacy is a human right” and highlighted the technical challenges of privacy. A few minutes later, another executive of Microsoft showed off new privacy controls that will soon arrive in a Chromium-based Edge preview release. I attended two sessions later this week to explore the ethical and personal consequences of facial recognition and AI.
And yet I can’t remember that in any of these discussions, Google mentioned by name. For instance, in a “Browser State” session, the Corporate Vice President responsible for the Edge Product Team referred repeatedly and without ever using the G-word to “other browsers.” Chrome was just another Chromium-powered anonymous browser that hour.
Why this reluctance to call the contest? I might think for a few reasons.
Mark Penn, the political consultant who then CEO Steve Ballmer hired as a strategic consultant in 2012, should bear the lion’s share of the fault. Penn’s claim to infamy is the disastrous “Don’t get scroogled” ad campaign that applied American political campaigns ‘ mudsling techniques to Google’s core competitive relationship.
By all indications, “Scroogled” was a total failure and probably damaged the reputation of Microsoft far more than Google had been damaged. It was to the credit of Satya Nadella that he quickly drove Penn out after he took over the CEO’s office.
More importantly, consumers do not care about privacy unless it is a headline shock like those that have plagued Facebook. Google has largely been able to avoid these scandals, even though it collects and monetizes huge amounts of data about the people who use its services.
In the meantime, corporate clients who maintain light on Microsoft are mostly concerned about privacy when exposed to legal and compliance risks.
Everything could change someday if Google finds itself in a privacy scandal with one of its most important services unexpectedly. For the time being, however, Google’s most negative focus is on issues related to its search results and the unfortunately effects of its YouTube recommendation algorithms.
There’s probably also a factor “do not poke the bear” at work here. After all, Google is the Chromium codebase maintainer, and Microsoft engineers work hard to contribute to it. The last thing they need is a feud that flows through the engineering trenches from the sales and marketing side.
More important than any of these factors is, however, the real browser war against Microsoft. I noticed in early 2018 that Microsoft Edge fell behind. Internet Explorer. A year later, the situation improved slightly.
In rolling 3-month traffic, as at the beginning of May 2019, 60 percent of all traffic on Windows 10 PCs was generated by Google Chrome, with Edge users representing 16.6 percent, and Internet Explorer at 15.5 percent. Mozilla Firefox has shrunk to just over 7% of all Windows 10 PC traffic and all other combined browsers account for well under 1%.
When you look at the significant number of company PCs that have not even upgraded to Windows 10, the situation gets much worse. Most of these PCs run Windows 7, the only one that still has an impressive and depressing usage share in Microsoft browser, Internet Explorer; Chrome is 56.7 %, with Firefox being under 8.8 %.
This challenge is even more important with Microsoft’s expanded support for Windows 7 by a further three years from its official end in January 2020.
Over the long term, Microsoft could peel off a number of Google customers by building a Chrome-compatible browser. But for now, the bigger opportunity is to make Internet Explorer say to corporate customers.
For this corporate pitch, forget about privacy. The new Internet Explorer mode, with the ability to run IE-specific pages in a tab withinEdge, is one of the three key features that Microsoft displayed at Build.