On Friday, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) received the ultimate compliment. It got sued by Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) . Well, technically speaking, Mr. Softy is asking a county judge to stop Kai-Fu Lee, its former head of research and development in Beijing, from working at Google. Microsoft argues that this violates the executive's non-compete contract.
One of the bits of confidential information that Lee was privy to during his tenure with Microsoft was an internal briefing back in March entitled "The Google Challenge." Maybe Microsoft is right. Maybe this does violate a clause in Lee's old contract. That's not the point. What's interesting here is that Microsoft is asking the court to protect it from Big, Bad Google. This case seems to be little more than a former bully wondering why it's being picked on by the new bully in town.
Once Google lapped eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) earlier this year to become the Internet's most valuable company, you didn't need to raise a spit-covered finger to know that the winds were changing. Google had not only arrived, but checked into the penthouse suite as well.
We love the underdogs. We cheer them on until they win. Then we turn our backs on the fresh victors and wave our pompoms in the direction of the next batch of underdogs. The logic is flawed. The rooting is hypocritical. The seething is misplaced. It doesn't matter. It's who we are. We feed the ego only to starve the eventual megalomania.
5 things I hate about Google
I wish I could join you in the Spite Club. My knocks on Google are few, and certainly not enough to make me turn on one of the craftiest technological innovators of our time. In the spirit of fair play, I will go ahead and count the ways that Google irks me -- only to tell you why none of this matters.
- Flotsam, I am. I'm not entirely thrilled about Google's rush to complete a secondary offering. Tapping the market for another $4 billion as it recently announced, with $3 billion already taking a catnap at the top of the company's balance sheet, isn't necessary. With Google's buoyant share price, that's as good as (no, better than) legal tender in future acquisition negotiations. Going through with the deal will only blow up the float and create a spike in the supply of shares that may not necessarily meet the demand at these prices.
- Flip-flop hypocrisy. You're going to love this one. Google offers advice to publishers who serve the company's ads through its AdSense program. In a visual heat map, Google argues that webmasters are best served by positioning Google's ads on the upper left-hand side of a Web page. Where does Google place its own ads? That's right -- on the far right.
- Good to a fault. When CNET (Nasdaq: CNET ) ran a story this summer on the plethora of personal information that is available online through Google -- and used Google's CEO as an example -- the dot-com giant slapped CNET with a one-year press freeze. I understand the privacy concerns, but this case shows not only how powerful Google's search is, but also how naive it can be in shutting out media access to CNET, one of the Internet's most prolific and popular sources of tech news.
- Simplify, simplify, diversify. One of the things that made Google stand out from older rivals like Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) and Microsoft's MSN.com is that Google stuck to its search-engine fundamentals. A knack for algorithmically superior scouring certainly helped it become the search engine of choice, but users also liked its stripped-down interface and lack of intrusive ads or cluttered design. I love many of the company's recent offerings, including Google Earth and desktop searching, but I often wonder what toll they'll take on the company's branding efforts.
- Shares the wealth. As a petty investor, I never give a whole lot of consideration to companies like Google, where insider shares command greater voting power than the shareholders-come-lately. If I have the gumption to buy into a company, I tend to inherently trust those at the helm. Besides, my tiny odd-lot purchases would never amount to much anyway. However, Google is one of these companies where the public was offered shares with diluted voting power.
Teaching your pet peeves to play dead
I'm sure that I missed some of your own beefs with Google. Maybe you're offended by the brash ways of the company's colorful founders. Maybe you think that Google's "me too" approach to following Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX ) AOL into new categories lacks originality.
You're welcome to those opinions. I disagree. I think Google's perpetual state of one-upmanship is breathtaking to watch. Still, in the end, it's all moot. Google didn't leave Microsoft quivering with litigious fear over a defecting executive by accident. As powerful as you think Google is now, just tap the snooze bar for the next five years and see how important the company will be when you wake up. And if you think your venom is boiling now, just wait until Google grows even more prolific.
But is Google really a bully, or is it just that good? I understand the gripes against Microsoft in its prime. You couldn't buy a PC without Mr. Softy's fingerprints all over it, unless you went with a Macintosh from Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) . And speaking of Apple, why isn't anyone making a stink over Lee's prior stint at the Mac maker before joining Microsoft?
Google isn't like Microsoft. It hasn't had the pseudo-monopolistic advantage of commanding a captive audience with every computer that is shipped. No advertiser is forced to open up an AdWords account. No one is muscling consumers to replace a Hotmail account with a free Gmail offering. Google earned its props from ordinary users through craft and ingenuity, every ascending step of the way.
That doesn't mean that Google is Teflon incarnate. Being the top dog makes you an easy target. It's why a company like family entertainment giant Disney can become boycott bait at the slightest sniffle, and why Wal-Mart will always be ducking stones.
Earlier this year, John Reeves wrote that Google was the greatest company in America. If that rings hollow to you, dig deeper. My fellow Fool was right. If you thought that eBay was a force to reckon with in its empowerment of individual entrepreneurship, Google's revolution in the promising realm of online advertising has done much more than that. It's just one of the many ways in which Google has always walked away with the better mousetrap, even if it wasn't the first to market.
That bitter feeling in your stomach? That cringe that overcomes you at the mere mention of Google these days? It isn't ire. It's respect.
I envy Google. I would never hate it.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz digs Google, but he does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this story, save for a couple of shares of Disney. Rick is also part of theRule Breakersnewsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.The Fool has adisclosure policy.