Google and Microsoft’s new battleground: Your living room

Microsoft and Google aren’t going head to head just over Internet search, office productivity suites and cloud-based applications and services. Their next looming battle is over who will own the living room, and the outcome will have surprising implications for IT as well.

In February, news leaked about a new service and device Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) has been working on that will stream music throughout a home using Google’s cloud-based music service and Google-branded, wirelessly enabled speakers. The New York Times reported that the device has been in development for a year. It’s likely that once Google’s purchase of Motorola goes through, Motorola will manufacture it.

Music is only Google’s first target; ultimately the service is expected to include streaming video as well. And even that represents just the beginning of Google’s ambitions in the home. A person connected with the project told the Times that Google wants eventually to control all gadgets in the home — televisions, speakers, even light bulbs — and link them to the Internet.

Microsoft has similar ambitions. In a blog post last summer, Frank X. Shaw, a Microsoft corporate communications executive, laid out a vision of a world in which people would use Microsoft’s Kinect, Xbox and Bing to interact with TV and entertainment devices via gesture and voice. Xbox already streams music and video, so Microsoft is there before Google. You can be sure, though, that Microsoft’s ambitions go beyond the living room, just as Google’s do.

The battle here is about much more than selling devices like the Xbox or Google’s upcoming streaming-music device. To a certain extent, that kind of hardware may eventually be little more than a loss leader. Both companies ultimately want you to live in their cloud. They don’t want you just to store your music there; they want information about your entire life there. If they’re going to control your lights and use of electricity, they need information about when you want your lights automatically turned on and off, for example. If they’re going to take charge of your television, they’ll need to know what types of shows you like to watch so they can make suggestions for new shows and record your favorites when you’re otherwise occupied. And they’ll store all that information, along with your music, personal documents and more, in your personal cloud.

What does this have to do with IT and the enterprise? More than you might expect. The ongoing consumerization of IT shows that there’s no longer a clear line between personal and professional use of technology. If people use an iPad at home, they’re also going to use it at work, and not just for playing Angry Birds. So they expect support for issues such as how to access company email and networks on their iPad. That’s true today and will become even more true in the future. And when people are storing their music and personal information in their clouds with Microsoft and Google, that fuzzy line between work and home will become even fuzzier — and more significant. You can count on people mixing personal and professional information in those vendors’ clouds.

And that means that they’ll be coming to IT when they have problems accessing their professional information from their personal clouds. They’ll expect their cloud-based services at home to trade information with their cloud-based services at work. That’s one of the reasons Microsoft and Google will be trying so hard to get consumers’ loyalty at home; it’s a way to get their loyalty at work as well.

So if you’re in IT, the battle between the Xbox and Google’s upcoming streaming-music service may only be a sideshow today, but tomorrow there’s a good chance that you will have to know about both services as part of your job.

Preston Gralla is a contributing editor for and the author of more than 35 books, including How the Internet Works (Que, 2006).

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