Last week while I was in San Francisco I picked up the new Google Search desktop tool. I had the first one but found it occasionally frustrating, and I didn’t enjoy having it index my hard drive, which seemed to take forever.
The new tool doesn’t seem to index any faster, but it is more useful. Parse that sentence carefully again: it’s not necessarily faster, but it is certainly more useful. That makes any time I would spend waiting for it to index is more easily endured because the value I get for waiting is so much greater.
Oh, and how much greater is that? It’s awesome. Because it searches my hard drive, my web page history, and my e-mail, it makes finding things trivially easy. It’s not that people forget if something they need was on a web page or an email, it’s that it’s the same tool now to do what is a very similar search.
I’ve used it to search for photos from Sarah’s and my rock-climbing date, which my digital camera filed in a mysterious folder on my computer that I promptly lost. I’ve also used it to find an old e-mail that I couldn’t recall. In both cases I knew that I could find those things by using the crappy built-in Windows search or the Outlook search, but why would I bother when a single tool does it all?
This begs a very important question. Ask yourself this question: If Microsoft owns Windows, IE, and Outlook, why haven’t they produced such an easy to use search yet? Microsoft’s critics argue that owning all three of these gives them an unfair advantage over others in the marketplace, and yet Microsoft’s size seems to have prevented them from producing what is a very simple search tool.
Microsoft is experiencing the downside of becoming a large, ossified company. A place I hope Mindshare never becomes. It happens to every company that grows that large, it’s not a Microsoft-specific fate. They have thousands of the brightest minds in the world, but large structures breed stability (a good thing) and reduce innovation (a bad thing). Should Red Hat, the Linux evangelizer, become as large as Microsoft, they would have the same problems.
Next time you hear Bill Gates or Steve Ballmer talk about how they’re afraid of competition, know that they’re actually sincere, it’s not just posturing for the press. However some of the gap between them and the innovators is self-inflicted.*
* For more about how big companies deal with upstart innovators, I suggest you read "The Innovator’s Solution" by Clayten Christensen.