Roughly 17 years ago, the tech industry was wringing its hands over Microsoft's anti-competitive business practices. Today, Microsoft's struggling (and generally succeeding) to regain its competitive edge after years of irrelevance.
But rather than thank US and European regulators for bringing Microsoft into line (remember US vs. Microsoft?), it's much closer to the truth to acknowledge that Google and others have learned to compete through openness, not illegal tying relationships.
In fact, as market share data generally shows, the more open the business strategy, the more business that company gets.
A brief history of market share
Take, for example, the search engine market, which kicked off the regulators' angst back in the late 1990s.
It occurred to me to check out search engine market share this morning, when I came across an article about Microsoft Bing's website redesign. While Bing runs on different browsers and operating systems, in my mind it's forever "Microsoft's search engine" and, by extension, "for Windows users." Ditto Safari (Apple).
This is perhaps the primary reason that Google continues to dominate the search engine market, despite Microsoft's attempts to catch up—not to mention its home field Windows advantage, as NetMarketShare data shows:
The same is true in the browser market.
While both Internet Explorer (Microsoft) and Safari (Apple) continue to play well on their respective platforms, Google is eating both their lunches in terms of growth.
First, here's desktop browser market share, Microsoft's stronghold, according to NetMarketShare data:
Internet Explorer and Safari are both stagnant over the last two years, while Chrome and Firefox have been soaring. This is even more pronounced on mobile devices:
Safari and Chrome started out miles apart in early 2013, at 59.42% and 2.63% market share, respectively, but are now at 42.63% and 27.78%, respectively. Even Android, with its dominant market share, can't carry the Android browser.
In fact, while aligning tightly with a particular platform is a great way to kickstart market penetration, it's a terrible long-term market share strategy.
Google's strategy of openly embracing diverse platforms has paid off, no matter the slippage in particular platforms. PCs continue to slide, as Intel's latest earnings report showcases, but Google's search engine market share (and associated revenue) keeps going up.
Apple's premium smartphone and tablet strategy has held off Google's Android in the most lucrative Western markets, but Google's advertising revenue (and market share) keeps going up on iOS devices, too.
In fact, Google has often privileged rival platforms. Some of its apps work better on iOS than on Android. In Google's master plan, it wins by playing across platforms, not on any particular platform.
That's why Google can continue to succeed, even as the platforms it runs on wax and wane. Today is clearly Apple's day as the dominant platform player. But by embracing all platforms equally, and not privileging its own, Google has set itself up to succeed no matter which devices we use to access the internet.
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Matt Asay is a veteran technology columnist who has written for CNET, ReadWrite, and other tech media. Asay has also held a variety of executive roles with leading mobile and big data software companies.