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Google's Special Relativity

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. And while the backlash that has greeted Google's (GOOG) sentimental approach to business overshoots Newtonian rationality, it might have been avoided altogether had the company better grasped its own expanding universe.

Google has begun to emerge in the technology press recently as a successor to IBM and Microsoft, an industry-dominating bully that's shaping -- and maybe squashing -- the next decade or so, at least, of innovation.

This is misleading. Google isn't exactly squashing innovation, as nearly everyone will admit Microsoft did during its glory years (everyone but Microsoft, that is). So far, Google has spurred innovation, forcing its competitors to stay nimble to match or beat its every new feature -- witness Yahoo! (YHOO) and Microsoft's work on video and book searches -- and helping the more ingenious content creators push their own creativity to the fore of the Web.

In moving from the Age of Microsoft to the Age of Google, the creation of technology has changed dramatically -- and in a way many investors don't quite grasp. If information technology in the 1980s and 1990s resembled a herd of sheep mindlessly controlled by a few quick and intelligent dogs, the industry today -- in particular the evolution of the Web -- resembles a Tour de France race where cyclists are racing to surpass a quick and intelligent leader.

Nor is Google proprietary about its technology. And there's plenty of evidence for this. It has opted for open formats, as it did with Google Talk, an instant messaging software that allows users to interface with other IM clients, be they from Time Warner's (TWX) AOL, Yahoo or MSN. What's more, it has shown far more tolerance for open standards than Microsoft and Oracle.

Of all the complaints lodged against Google in the past year, few have involved charges that the company is bullying people into a second-rate technology. Google may desperately want you to download its toolbar, but it's willing to wait until you feel it's necessary.

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