Microsoft Strategy Is to Make Google Into Microsoft

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In 1955, the year I was born, Warner Brothers debuted a cartoon called "Hare Brush" in which Bugs Bunny changed places with his nemesis, Elmer Fudd. The conceit was that Fudd was about to go to jail, so he tricked the rabbit into going in his stead.

Curiously, 1955 was also the year Bill Gates was born. Current Microsoft ( MSFT) CEO Steve Ballmer is a year younger than us. But Ballmer seems to have seized on that script as the way to turn the tables in his ongoing competition with Google ( GOOG).

(Thursday, Microsoft announced earnings of $6.06 billion, or 72 cents a share, on revenue of $20.5 billion. Click here for TheStreet's report on the earnings.)

This all started in a rather ham-handed fashion, with an ad campaign called Scroogled, aimed at making Google appear evil, and a lobbying effort called Fairsearch, aimed at bringing the anti-trust cops knocking on Google's door.

I wrote about Fairsearch on Monday and while I disapprove of it on the merits I have to admit it's a clever bit of lobbying. By getting together with all of Google's foiled rivals, and attacking on multiple continents, Microsoft could indeed make its rival more bureaucratic, more like Microsoft itself has become, and less nimble.

Lately Microsoft has been getting more subtle in attacking Google through the cloud.

Yes, Google has the biggest, best and baddest cloud on the planet. But it mainly uses its cloud to provide Google services to Google customers. It doesn't sell the Google Compute Engine nearly as effectively as Amazon.com ( AMZN) does.

In addition, both Google and Amazon are proprietary infrastructures. So, many thought, was Microsoft's cloud, called Azure, which the company first tried to sell as a complete platform, including tools for creating applications.

Now, working with independent vendors like Greenbutton, Microsoft is pushing the idea that its cloud can support OpenStack, the open source cloud infrastructure which seeks to challenge Amazon in the enterprise. In addition, Microsoft says, it will now match Amazon's infrastructure on price.

Bill Hilf, general manager of Microsoft's cloud computing group, calls this "the power of And" in a blog post announcing the plan. The idea is that Microsoft is flexible, Google inflexible, and that Microsoft prices to the market.

Microsoft is also letting Google shoot itself in the foot. Google Glass has always struck me as "inside baseball," a way for co-founder Larry Page to help his partner, Sergey Brin, self-destruct so he can rule the Googleplex alone. Brin's controlling impulses are now coming out in the Glass roll-out, as The Register puts it with more than a hint of snark, "Google Glass will self-destruct if flogged on eBay."

Google Glass actually looks bad enough to make people forget Windows 8.

As Microsoft prepared to announce earnings this week, there were growing calls for Ballmer to resign, as reported by the BBC . Problem is, to be replaced by whom? Microsoft has no successor in place, and as I noted yesterday in writing about Intel, there are no obvious alternative visions for the company coming from outside.

The Microsoft plan for now is to focus on the cloud, on an appearance of flexibility, on attacking Google, while rolling out a new version of Windows later this year that will "fix" the problems of Windows 8, much as Windows 7 "fixed" Windows Vista in the middle of the last decade.

Win or lose this quarter, is there a better strategy out there?

At the time of publication, the author was long Google.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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