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3/27/2007
03:24 PM
John Foley
John Foley
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Google's Arms-Length Embrace Of Windows Vista

So much is said about the rivalry between Microsoft and Google that it's easy to forget they share a common interest. Windows Vista and Google's Web-based applications will coexist on millions of computers as more people make the move to Microsoft's new operating system. That software combo had incendiary potential, but so far no alarms are sounding.

So much is said about the rivalry between Microsoft and Google that it's easy to forget they share a common interest. Windows Vista and Google's Web-based applications will coexist on millions of computers as more people make the move to Microsoft's new operating system. That software combo had incendiary potential, but so far no alarms are sounding.We've seen what happens when Microsoft competitors don't make an effort to support Vista. Shortly after Vista was released to consumers at the end of January, Apple revealed that there were compatibility issues between its iTunes player and Microsoft's OS. More recently, Adobe said it won't put in the work to make its current line of publishing products (i.e. PhotoShop, Dreamweaver) compatible with Vista. In fact, there are more applications that don't support Vista, than do.

Interoperability doesn't just happen; some platform-specific development work is required. Google has quietly tweaked its software to ensure things work with Vista, though Google doesn't say much about this subject, as doing so could come across as an unintended endorsement of Vista. I had to badger the company for more than a week to get the little information that follows.

Sundar Pichai, a director of product management at Google, responded in a written statement that Google has done some work (he didn't go into detail) to make the Google Desktop search and personalization tool run smoothly on Vista. "We improved the look at feel of our Sidebar and Gadgets application to improve the user experience and better fit Vista's user interface," Pichai says.

Google also made Google Pack compatible with Vista. Google Pack consists of free, downloadable software, including Google Earth, the Picasa photo organizer, a screensaver, the Google toolbar for Internet Explorer, and more. "We didn't want our users to have to spend time transferring their favorite applications, so we worked hard to simplify the installation process for them," says Pichai. Even so, Vista users will find Google Pack harder to get onto their computers than Windows XP users because Google Pack requires administrative rights to be installed. Microsoft took those rights away from the average user in Vista as a security measure.

In January, during an interview on Google's growing presence as an employer in New York City, I had occasion to ask Google engineering director Alan Warren about Vista compatibility. Warren said Google had to check all of its software for Vista compatibility, but that the work involved was "not a big deal."

There's more Google could do to create a visually rich, interactive user experience in which its applications more fully exploit Vista's underlying capabilities. Think of Office 2007's Ribbon or live preview feature, for instance, but with Google applications instead of Office. But that would require a lot more programming work--and a level of cooperation between Microsoft and Google that we have yet to witness and no reason to expect.

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