News Analysis

Google shines a light on innovation

Many companies have tried to take on Microsoft and many have failed, from the might of IBM with its OS/2 operating system to Netscape and its internet browser.

Google has steadily developed a portfolio of products that seems to make it Microsoft's biggest competitor. The beta programme for its Chrome browser probably marks the beginning of a new internet browser war against Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE).

However, unlike Netscape, which fought Microsoft in the mid-1990s, Google is no internet startup. The search engines, the applications and the web components it makes, are all free, paid for through advertising. In fact, Google has done more to change people's perception of free software than any other company or person, including Richard Stallman, the outspoken founder of the Free Software Forum.

Some people will say Microsoft has the edge because its software is embedded in the Windows operating system. But the Windows GUI is a child of the 1990s the internet is the GUI for the 21st century and Google is the window through which most users around the world view the internet.

Google is here to stay. It has been running for a decade, yet it has somehow managed to retain the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit that created the clever page ranking algorithm which has fuelled its astronomical growth.

Google staff today are encouraged to try out their own personal ideas. Clearly not every idea is a success. But Google chief executive officer, Eric Schmidt, would rather see projects from his staff fail quickly, than see a carefully planned, long drawn-out project fail.

It is the idea of "skunk works", a term originally coined by Lockheed Martin to describe highly specialised, secret projects like the Blackbird stealth fighter.

Project Chess that created the IBM PC came about from a "skunk works" project when IBM wanted to explore the emerging home computing market.

Many will try to emulate Google's success, including Microsoft, but very few, if any, will get close. However, all businesses can take away Google's approach to innovation. This is something that any chief information officer and IT director should start practising, by creating a culture for innovation and encouraging staff to try their own ideas


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