NatPost Column: Sympathy for the Devil (Okay, Microsoft)

Here are some clips from tomorrow’s NatPost column:

Who would have expected it? Recent news in search, plus a competitor’s browser, plus a new lawsuit from Novell, have done what millions of dollars in Microsoft public relations never could: Make Microsoft look sympathetic.

Last week Microsoft had hardly settled with Novell over one issue (an old and defunct networking system of the latter’s) before Novell showed up suing over another defunct product, the WordPerfect word processor that the company owned from 1994 to 1996.

Having been emboldened by winning one half-billion dollar settlement from Microsoft, Novell now looks like it would like to build a business from settling with the cash-rich company. Instead, however, Novell merely looks grubby and greedy, as if when it sees an open wallet it can’t help itself from diving in and grabbing for lucre. By contrast, Microsoft looks darn near statesmanlike.

Hey, maybe Microsoft should pay Novell to sue it now and then. After all, Novell has helped make Microsoft seem more like soft prey than hardened predator.

More seriously, seeing Novell circle mighty Microsoft is like watching a smaller aging shark circle a much larger aging one that is distracted by being temporarily caught in a net. It has years of grievances it would like to work out, and it can hardly resist the opportunity to make a few cuts in the larger shark’s exposed flank.

Because what has Microsoft’s attention is not Novell’s predations, but Google’s. While Google and Microsoft could hardly be more different, with Microsoft having more than 15 times search kingpin Google’s revenue, there is this sense that Google is ever-advancing and implacable, that it understands where things are going in technology right now and Microsoft doesn’t.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Google seems more like Microsoft than Microsoft does. It is like the Borg on Star Trek: Google is a company staffed by legions of cool and hyper-rational Ph.D.s that is an irresistible force of nature. Resistance is futile.

Is Google irresistible? At least temporarily, it would seem so. To understand why …