Microsoft

(MSFT) - Get Report

and

Google

(GOOG) - Get Report

don't really play well together. I'm not saying that one software company's goods work with the others. I'm just stating the obvious here: These two bitter rivals don't like each other. Period.

These feelings go back a ways. Four years ago, Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer was saying things like: "Google might disappear in the next five years." Two years ago, Ballmer called Google a "one trick pony" because of its search-engine dominance.

And just two weeks ago, Ballmer called Google Apps (an online office software suite) "overpriced." In an interview with CBS Interactive's

Cnet

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, Microsoft's boss said: "Google is neither free nor low cost. That's not a joke. We're talking about the enterprise. We're not talking about some screwball consumer thing now. We're talking about the enterprise. Google charges a very hefty price, comparable to our prices, when it comes to the enterprise."

On the other side of the equation, Google hasn't really had nice things to say about Microsoft either. In a recent news release from a corporate lawyer, Google claimed that Microsoft's interest in

Yahoo!

(YHOO)

"raised a troubling question" about antitrust law violations. I could go on and on.

But now, online news sites are talking about the possibility of a Google Netbook mini-computer that runs on the Android operating system. Would this be a big threat to Microsoft -- or

Apple

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-- or any company using Linux on small computers?

The answer is definitely maybe. Then again, maybe not. Google's Android OS is based on open-source software. So is Apple. So is Linux. Apple hasn't even bothered with Netbooks, so this would not be that much of a threat to them.

But Linux-based Netbooks are currently being produced and they're selling. They're cheaper than Windows-based computers (anywhere from $20 to $100 cheaper) and usually require fewer resources (smaller processor, less memory, etc.)

What you sometimes give up by choosing a Linux-based computer over a Windows-based model is a modicum of compatibility. For instance, I can download a Windows-based

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

driver for our email system here at

TheStreet.com

-- install it -- and be on my way. Cisco also lets you download a Linux driver, but installing it was a major challenge for a number of IT experts I know.

And, if you're used to Microsoft's Office suite (Exchange, Word, Excel, PowerPoint, etc.) then the office software most often included on Linux computers, OpenOffice.Org (primarily sponsored by

Sun Microsystems

(JAVA)

) might take a tiny drop of getting used to by everyone involved. As silly as that sounds, trying to get an editor to open an OpenOffice document has sometimes been a challenge. (For the record, there's also a free, Windows version of OpenOffice.org if you want to try it.)

Ballmer knows that making his company's software available on the Web (like a "live" version of Microsoft Office that can be accessed on any computer, anywhere) will be one of the "next big things." I think its future success might be measured by how simply you can access your information and how safe that information really is.

Google might have erred by not making its big move when Windows Vista was originally released and faltered. But now, the situation might be reversed. Buyers could turn to Microsoft operating systems again, especially if the final release version of Windows 7 is as good as the beta I've been using for nearly two months.

Google knows all this. Mountain View knows that making the leap from a search-engine leader to an all-inclusive software company is a big leap. Google also knows that an open-source, Linux-based laptop running Google apps is different from an open-source Android-based device running Google apps. Whether that kind of leap could make people forget about Windows has yet to be seen.

Gary Krakow is TheStreet.com's senior technology correspondent.