As a Mac fan in the 1990s, it was a lot easier to understand who the good guys were and who the bad guys were. Apple was very good. Intel was bad. Adobe was usually good. Microsoft was bad. Very bad. Evil. But over time as we have morphed into the latter part of this decade, Intel switched teams and became good. Meanwhile, Adobe looked less like a close friend and more like a despised ex, as Microsoft went from hated bully and thief to playing the role of crazy uncle who nobody really likes but puts up with because he's not going to disappear. The hardest to label? Google, a younger cousin who everybody really likes, but just might be too smooth to be trusted, even as it gets too popular. Now the stage is set for an awkward family reunion - as Google and Apple are so overlapped, tech fans have the option to choose between the two for practically their entire digital life, and the loyalty once sent Cupertino's way, exclusively, is getting some serious competition.
Over the last few years, if one can look beyond the striking hardware and arguable operating system differentiation between Mac OS X and Windows PCs, Apple has unquestionably led the way in terms of seamless integration between applications and devices. The company's iLife package ensures that media is treated in a similar way across multiple applications, and its user interface guidelines protect the users from odd menu behaviors that change between each program. Meanwhile, the company's iTunes/iPod/iPhone juggernaut has made managing media easier than ever before, especially when one considers the addition of the fast-growing App Store and the good, even if not given much respect, Apple TV, which brings the core of the store to the core of the home.
But while we Mac fans may have been resting comfortably as the Mac vs. PC commercials made us giggle with egotistical self-pride, and the company's balance sheet has grown ever stronger with quarter after very profitable quarter, Google has been changing its spots - morphing from search engine and advertising powerhouse to a Web services monolith that can go head to head with almost every single Apple product out there. As the company integrates its many different products, they too may offer the integration we have always come to expect from Apple, but in an open, Web-focused way. And with every single new announcement, Apple fans have to start thinking if their future is one that is Google as much as it ever was Mac - and if "Going Google" would be that bad anyway.
If Mac OS X is the platform on which all Apple software starts, so too will be Google's Chrome OS. We know it's coming, and some sharp engineers are slaving away in Mountain View to capture the flexibility of the Web and make the cloud the equivalent of your hard disk.
Apple's Safari browser, the built-in Web browser for Mac and for iPhones, is equally matched by the Chrome browser on all major operating systems and on Android as well.
The iPhone and its 80,000 to 100,000 applications in the iTunes Store are being challenged by Android's new fleet of phones, led by the Droid from Motorola, and its rumored 10,000+ apps.
Apple's Mail? Easily matched by GMail. iCal? See Google Calendar. iChat? Google Chat. iMovie and iDVD? Well, it's not the same thing, but you would be hard-pressed to say YouTube doesn't win that battle. iWeb? Really? See Blogger.
On the professional side, Apple's iWork sports Keynote, Pages and Numbers. One has to wonder why they even released these apps, as they're not exactly keeping Microsoft at bay, and I don't know anybody who uses the last two. I use Pages once a year to do our Holiday letters home, and that's it! You better believe that Google's online office suite of Google Docs, Spreadsheets and Presentations is the real deal. Beyond that, do you expect Apple's iDisk to trump GDrive? Will Mac OS X Server beat out the Google File System (GFS) or can you expect XServes to replace Google's commodity rack servers in their datacenters around the globe? Not likely.
This isn't a rant stating that Apple is doomed. Far from it. After all, Google doesn't "yet" make excellent laptops. But I've tried the Motorola Droid with Android 2.0 and it's good enough that if iPhone were not an option, it would be an easy second choice. I find that I am using my Apple OS and my Apple Web browser to go Google, not just for the search engine, but all the downstream Google services. (10 of which I highlighted last month)
Google spokesperson and king of anti-spam Matt Cutts said his October goal was to avoid Microsoft software, a task made easier than ever now with Google providing an alternative just about everywhere. But I wonder if it's possible to do something very different - use ONLY Google software for a month. That would mean using the company's Web browser exclusively, and their office suite exclusively, and their mobile phone OS exclusively. That would mean using GMail and Google Talk and Google Wave and Google Calendar and Google Reader instead of Outlook or Mac Mail. I bet we're very close to this happening.
On Wednesday, Google also announced some of their first forays into Music search. This is an area where Apple still has the clear advantage - with iTunes. But Google offers Pandora on the Android platform, so iTunes isn't needed. Maybe I could push them to buy Spotify, and set up a killer alternative to iTunes with the Google logo? That would be something indeed.
I am a Mac guy. Maybe I'm less of a Mac guy than I once was, but I still trust Cupertino. That said, Google is growing on me in a big way, and they are the real alternative - something Microsoft never really was. Maybe soon I'll also be going Google in a way I never expected.