At this week’s Google I/O in San Francisco, Google CEO Larry Page stood onstage and took unscripted questions from an auditorium of conference attendees. That’s an unusual move for any chief executive, the sort of thing that risks giving their PR people a heart attack. But Page wasn’t up there to offer insights into strategy or drop hints about upcoming products: he wanted to talk about how negativity in the tech industry stood in the way of innovation.
“Despite the faster change we have in the industry, we’re still moving slow relative to the opportunities that we have,” he said. “And some of that, I think, has to do with the negativity. Every story I read about Google, it’s us versus some other company or some stupid thing.” Being negative, he added, is not how the tech industry makes progress.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there,” he added. “We can use technology to make really new and really important things to make people’s lives better.”
Page tried to keep things on that positive, more philosophical track throughout the question-and-answer session that followed, although he couldn’t resist taking swipes at rivals. When an audience member asked about Google’s very public battles with Oracle over patents related to Android, Page described the relationship with Oracle as “difficult” and suggested that “money is probably more important to them than having any kind of collaboration or things like that.”
The relationship with Microsoft he likewise framed as a “struggle.” Just that week, he said, Microsoft had failed to collaborate fully on interoperability with regard to instant messaging: “Microsoft took advantage of that by interoperating with us, but not doing the reverse. Which is really sad, right? And that’s not the way to make progress.”
The day after Page’s keynote, Microsoft fired off a rather acerbic response. “It’s ironic that Larry is lending his voice to the discussion of interoperability considering his company’s decision—today—to file a cease and desist order to remove the YouTube app from Windows Phone,” read that statement, according to PC World, “let alone the recent decision to make it more difficult for our customers to connect their Gmail accounts to their Windows experience.”
Google and Microsoft weren’t the only two companies sniping at each other this week. SAP (which is hosting its Sapphire Now conference this week) and NetSuite have been trading verbal blows, according to V3.co.uk. Electronic Arts and Nintendo seem headed to some kind of fracas after the former announced it would stop making games for the Wii U. And that’s just a sampling of the never-ending circular firing squad that comprises most of the tech industry: Apple versus Google versus Samsung versus Microsoft versus Oracle versus Salesforce versus lots of little startups.
Those battles won’t fade away anytime soon, because corporations have one goal: profit. And so long as other rivals’ technological innovations or marketplace maneuvers stand in the way of that profit, the lawsuits and the CEO sniping will continue. The part of Page’s talk that centered on peace and love played well to the audience at Google I/O; but it’s easier to argue that the true mode of the tech industry, at its core, is Darwinian competition.