Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt testified today before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s antitrust subcommittee, making the case not only that Google is not evil, but also that it’s not Microsoft.
Thirteen years ago, Bill Gates testified before the same panel to defend Microsoft from allegations that it abused its market dominance. His performance has been described as elusive and defensive, and two months later the Justice Department filed its antitrust suit.
Schmidt, pundits have been saying, needed to avoid a similar performance, and the Google chairman seems to have taken the advice not just to heart, but literally. At every turn, Schmidt’s message seemed to be: We’re nothing like Microsoft.
In his opening statement, Schmidt brought up Microsoft right off the bat, saying, “Twenty years ago, a large technology firm was setting the world on fire. Its software was on nearly every computer. Its name was synonymous with innovation. But that company lost sight of what mattered. Then Washington stepped in.”
Schmidt said he and others in Silicon Valley had learned the lessons of the Microsoft antirust saga. “We get it. By that I mean that we get the lessons of our corporate predecessors,” Schmidt said.
He didn’t mention exactly what that lesson was, but we can be sure one aspect of it is that if “Washington steps in,” it can demolish a thriving business. So in several instances he sought to distinguish today’s Google from the Microsoft of the late ’90s, which was accused of using its market power in operating systems to force users to use its Internet Explorer web browser.
“I ask you to remember that not all companies are cut from the same cloth, and that one company’s past need not be another’s future,” he said. “We live in a different world today, and the open Internet is the ultimate level playing field.”
“Open” and “Internet” are the key words there.
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