The Hubris Factor: Overlooked in the comparisons between Microsoft and Google is this key distinction: Microsoft didn't just borrow other people's innovation, it forced innovation to grow within its tightly walled garden, and in so doing stifled it. Google has taken steps to avoid that mistake.

But as Battelle points out, Google's finding it tougher to avoid other pitfalls as it becomes an "agenda-shaping player responsible for navigating complex relationships with world governments, the personal privacy of millions, major trade organizations and hundreds of thousands of businesses."

Such a position "requires a balanced mixture of leadership, will, and diplomacy," Battelle wrote. "There's very little room for the go-it-alone mentality which got the company to where it stands today. Can the company shift its culture and avoid the fate which ultimately hobbled Microsoft? That, more than anything else, will define the next chapter in the company's fascinating story."

Where will all this leave Google and Microsoft? Microsoft has far too much cash to go away quietly. But its fate seems likely to be domination in markets that are growing increasingly ancillary.

And Google? As always, its greatest liability is its greatest asset -- the tendency to set its sites on the big hairy goals and stop at nothing to get there. The biggest enemy facing Google is itself. And its biggest challenge will be to subdue that enemy before the growth in online advertising finally does slow down.

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