Microsoft has been spinning the "Google-can't-cut-it-in-the-enterprise" yarn so well that it has Gartner analyst Matt Cain spinning himself like a corkscrew in an interview with the Financial Times.
"In a corporate environment, you can't just tell your CEO it was bad luck," Cain blustered, before confessing that "the overall reliability of Gmail was still superior to the in-house e-mail systems that most companies run."
Which is closer to the truth.
Microsoft gleefully piled on to Google's pratfall. Ron Markezitch, VP of Microsoft's online services, repeated the corporate mantra to bloggers during a conference call: "Google we really do not feel is ready for the enterprise."
But as Joe Wilcox points out, Microsoft then dashes cold water on its own SaaS announcement at CeBIT by unveiling a beta.
Could it be because of the European Union's more recent antitrust investigation, Microsoft executives have got trials on the brain? Perhaps it's some strange geek humor. You've got a trial for us, so we've one for you.
Services will actually be available, or so Microsoft claims, in April. Maybe they just weren't ready to launch at CeBIT, so Microsoft put in the get-it-by-trial placeholder so that something could be announced.
No one should doubt the sincerity of Microsoft's outrage at Google's temerity -- it cannot abide the idea that someone would dare to challenge it. But I do doubt the sincerity of its cloud strategy. It has been dragged into this market kicking and screaming (I can hear Steve Ballmer screaming, "software plus services, software plus services, software plus services").
The vision laid out by Microsoft corporate VP Chris Caposella less than two years ago still applies:
"We're very happy to be the leading vendor in the space and we want to continue to be the leading vendor in the space," he said. "We look at everything from ad-funded software to Web-based software to servers. Long term the way we differentiate from Google, it's the combination of all three: client, servers, and services that is the winning strategy."
The SaaS offerings it has introduced so far have seemed like sops to financial analysts worried about incursions from the likes of Salesforce.com and Google, rather than a full-throated embrace of software as a service.
This latest toe-dipping episode only reinforces the idea that while Microsoft is profoundly irritated by the disruption to its quiet market hegemony, it would rather temporize in the hopes that it magically disappears than committing to it fully.