A giant with a war chest of $64.4 billion (as of September 30th 2004, but still growing at a $1 billion/month rate)… there’s only one, and it’s obviously Microsoft.
The identity of the challengers is more unexpected…
Six years ago, Google was just an idea growing in the brain of two Stanford PhD students. Six years is young compared with what is now a respectable age for Microsoft : 29 years. I won’t mention the well-known battle which opposes the two competitors regarding search engines. Google is leading the market, with 60% of search-generated traffic, against MSN’s 7%. The battlefield where Google is going to have Microsoft suffer is e-mail. GoogleMail (GMail for close friends) is spreading at an astonishing speed, thanks to a "for guests only" beta-version trick (a deliberate marketing policy to create scarcity ; much more efficient than public opening). But GMail is not just about marketing, it’s a product which has been completely redesigned, without complex : a 1Gb free storage capacity, e-mails put together as "conversations", a label system which turns obsolete the old folder approach… If you think of the beginnings of the original Google search engine, and if the same results happen again, Microsoft’s war treasure won’t be of much help to stop the GMail wave.
The other outsider isn’t even a corporation ; it’s a non-profit organization registered in California : The Mozilla Foundation. The true story: a group of people who took part to the Netscape venture. In the no-mercy business world, you could almost describe the Mozilla Foundation as a living dead… but their Firefox internet browser has already convinced 10 millions users, and when you see it, you understand it won’t stop there ; improved and creative functionalities which might be enough, not necessarily to win the battle over Internet Explorer, but certainly to carve a significant market share to reopen the game.
In 1998, Google didn’t exist ; Yahoo and Alta Vista were leading the young search industry, and there was no place for a late comer. By bringing to the market a major innovation (the "page rank" technology), Google put the previous order of competitors upside down. The history is not over ; the two Californian outsiders certainly keep in store other unpleasant surprises for the Redmont giant.