Is Google Turning Into Big Brother?

Taking on Google: About Schmidt

The second stream is embodied in a single figure, Eric Schmidt. Schmidt is perhaps the smartest person I know -- and one of the few people in tech history (Andy Grove is another, and the comparison is telling) who has ever successfully made the leap from being a corporate chief scientist to Fortune 500 CEO.

But the trip wasn't easy.

Twice, Schmidt watched all of his efforts come to nothing in the face of devastating assaults by Bill Gates and Microsoft. The first time, at Sun Microsystems, Schmidt was all but helpless to do anything; the second time, at Novell, where he was CEO, he had to take the blame.

In those days, everyone in Silicon Valley was obsessed with Microsoft. It seemed an unstoppable force that would slowly crush one market after another until it had rolled up the entire tech world. Most companies and entrepreneurs either hunkered down and tried to ride out the storm, or simply ran way -- finding market niches where Microsoft was unlikely to follow.

But three Valleyites, each of them a genius of one type or another, and each of them already burned by Microsoft, set out on their own to figure out how to beat Gates.

The first was Larry Ellison, whose company Oracle was nearly as big as Microsoft. Ruthless and insanely competitive, Ellison tried and failed to draw users off their PCs and onto a theoretical "network computer," failed and then embarked on an acquisition campaign that essentially encased his customer base behind impenetrable walls.

The second was Marc Andreessen, who had to watch his beloved Netscape be crushed by Gates' borderline illegal attack with Internet Explorer, quietly withdrew upstream from Microsoft and went into the "tool" business, devising new ways for users to use the Internet without Microsoft.

But neither went so far, with such success, as Schmidt. He spent years figuring out how to beat Microsoft -- and when he was given Google, he knew he now had the perfect club. Microsoft still took most of the world's users to the Internet, but once they got there, Google owned them. The Web was all about searching for information -- and because Google's search service was free, billions of users happily took Google up on the offer.

That might have been enough. Google is now one of the world's most valuable and influential companies. Much of the planet's population passes through its simple and friendly portals every day, and in the process it has snatched up a sizable chunk of the advertising money out there. Meanwhile, no one talks much about Microsoft these days.

It would seem that Schmidt has had his revenge, and the techno-utopians of the world have been vindicated. But if you think that means the battle is over, don't kid yourself.

Did Google Lie?

If anything, the dreams of both have just begun to unfold. Schmidt seems no longer content to defeat Microsoft, but to become it -- and more. Moreover, he's got the army of brilliant, amoral young foot soldiers to do the job.

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