Has Google Banned Microsoft Windows?

Contributing Editor

According to several reports in the mainstream press, Google is phasing out Microsoft’s Windows OS on company PCs because of security concerns. The reports state it’s an attempt to close loopholes which were exploited by Chinese hackers earlier in the year.

Quotes from unnamed Google employees appeared in an article in the Financial Times. The sources revealed that Google’s 10,000 personnel would be encouraged to opt for Linux or OS X. Those who wanted to retain Windows on their PC would require clearance from senior levels.

Neither Google or Microsoft provided official comments to the news story.

The whole story smells suspiciously bull-like to me! There are several reasons:

1. Freedom of Choice
Google employees are known to have some of the best perks in the IT world. They are famous for the 20% projects where workers can request a day per week to investigate or develop technology of their choice. So why would Google suddenly restrict employee freedom? Many will have used Windows for years and the company would suffer diminished productivity while users migrated to other platforms.

2. Security Investigations
If a Microsoft technology exploit was the cause of the security problems, moving the company off Windows and Internet Explorer has no bearing on what software Google’s users run.

How can the exploits be investigated if employees are unable to use the software which causes the problem?

3. Browser Testing
Like it or not, Internet Explorer is the world’s most widely-used browser. Usage may be diminishing, but how can Google build web-based solutions if they can’t test them in the top mainstream browser?

It’s possible to run IE on Linux, but it’s not an exact replica of the Windows version. If you want to test IE, you need Windows.

4. Copying the Competition
No software product is developed in total isolation. Software vendors mimic or blatantly copy ideas and features from competing systems. Google is no exception and many of their products have been influenced by software which originated from Microsoft or other companies.

How can they keep up with the competition if they refuse to install their software?

5. Convenient OS Propaganda
Even though neither company has commented, the story has taken on a life of its own. Whether it was started by Google or not doesn’t matter: they will certainly benefit.

Google is releasing Chrome OS within a few months. It’s a convenient coincidence if Windows security can be questioned during the lead up to that event.

Personally, I don’t believe a word of it. However, it shows how large organisations can manipulate the media to their own advantage.

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  • Baal

    I think it’s fair to assume they don’t mean “completely”. Of course they’re still going to test things in a Windows environment. The same way we test things in IE, while *using* it would be a completely different thing. That’s how I read it.

  • http://www.deathshadow.com deathshadow60

    Just to stir the pot a little – IE use is NOT diminishing and if anything has continued the steady growth they’ve seen since 2005.

    The MARKET has grown over 50% – simple question: which is more, 90% of 980 million or 54% of 2.1 billion? IE use is not on the decline, it’s just not expanded into the developing world as quickly. Hence is the LIE of market share.

    So unless Google is planning on treating IE the same way it treats Opera (almost to the point of telling Opera users where to stick it) ditching Windows company-wide, particularly in their web development department is basically shooting themselves in the foot.

    NOT that I wouldn’t put it past them given the train wreck they’ve turned google search into the past few months with the hordes of ajax and dhtml crap for nothing and destroying everything that made google worth using over other search engines – that being a clean, simple, fast loading user interface.

    • eric

      actually, if you look at the stats
      http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp
      you’ll clearly see since 2006 ie marketshare has been steadily going down.
      When you add up ie6, ie7 and ie8, you only get 31%.
      IE is nowhere near the most used or most popular browser anymore.

      Firefox alone is 47%, and Chrome already has half as many users as ie.
      No son, times have changed.

      facts are facts and numbers are numbers

      Oh and consider the fact that most of the ie users work for large corporations and government, where the trend is to switch to linux, due to the economy. These majority ie facilities will soon be on firefox no doubt.

      I used to work for the state of Florida IT dept., with their budget problems, they will soon drop thousands of users from ie and move them to ubuntu/firefox.

      • Jellyfish

        @deathshadow60

        …owned. Wise up!

      • Phil

        I think the w3schools website is no good for getting web usage stats. I would love it if those figures were true.

        From that same page:

        “W3Schools is a website for people with an interest for web technologies. These people are more interested in using alternative browsers than the average user. The average user tends to use Internet Explorer, since it comes preinstalled with Windows. Most do not seek out other browsers.”

  • Poetro

    On a typical web development cycle i think of a 100 member team it needs like 5 developers to have access to Internet Explorer, as with great JavaScript frameworks and prepared CSS knowledge you wont need need to test every step in IE, only at some later points. And as stated before, with senior clearance most front end developers would get access to Windows machines IMO.

  • Ivan

    I totally agree with all the points mentioned in this article, specailly with the last one. This is all just propaganda that it’s supposed to benefit Google -

  • Crys

    The only point you make here that I agree with is the last one. It IS kind of conveniently timed, no? That by itself is enough to make you go “Yeah, maybe not.” or “Yeah, but if so it’s more likely for marketing reasons”

    But as for the other ones:

    1 – Google’s employees may get great perks but that doesn’t mean they get maximum freedom either. All you have to do to see that is look back at stories written by former web designers to get a feel for how “great perks” don’t always equal “free work environment”.

    2 – Having Windows test environments for research is not the same thing as employees having access to use it on their own desktop. We’ve got a Mac in our test lab. One. If I asked for a Mac to do my design work on, they’d laugh in my face. Does that mean I can’t do research on things that happen to my web design on a Mac? No, it just means I can’t do it on my own desktop.

    3 – Same point. Having it in an isolated test environment is not the same as using it for sensitive email or company information.

    4 – … Are you really saying that Google or any other company specifically installs software only to copy its interface? Interfaces tend to follow trends in design and and usability which leads to similar functionality. There’s only so many ways you can denote “click this button to reply”. Does some copying happen? Sure, sometimes it’s probably even intentional. But you’re essentially saying Google won’t be able to create their own interfaces if they can’t copy Microsoft’s decision on how to do it (which is usually NOT that similar to what Google comes up with in the first place…)

  • http://www.curtismchale.ca curtismchale

    While I do think it’s a bit silly for Google to be doing this it is true. I’ll refer to a MacBreak Weekly a few weeks ago where a former employee confirmed that when they recently made the switch to work for Google she was given the choice of Linux or OSX. She’s a Windows person and has to get approval to work on Windows.

    Yeah it’s silly but that doesn’t change the truth of it.

  • Jeremy

    Wow, maybe you should do some research like a real journalist before you write. Google specifically said they would be allowing Windows machines for all the things you mentioned. So …

    1. “the company would suffer diminished productivity while users migrated to other platforms” This much is probably true … but it’s a small enough and temporary enough diminishment that it’s easily outweighed by the cost of dealing with viruses and security breaches and such. Do you have any idea how much a security breach costs, especially at a company with sensitive information?

    2. “How can the exploits be investigated if employees are unable to use the software which causes the problem?” They can’t …. but like I said, they’re specifically keeping Windows around for just that sort of investigation.

    3. “It’s possible to run IE on Linux, but …” First off, it’s not just Linux; people can choose Macs too. But again, no one’s going to be testing IE on Linux or Mac, they’re going to be testing it on Windows.

    4. “How can they keep up with the competition if they refuse to install their software? *sigh* This is just a lame argument overall … but again, they’re not refusing to install Windows!

    5. “Convenient OS Propaganda” *Maybe* this somehow helps Chrome OS a teensy bit, but that has nothing to do with the decision. My (100-odd person) company is in the process of doing the exact same thing as Google right now, and we do not have an OS to promote.

    This whole thing is about security, plain and simple. Windows machines are terribly insecure. You can throw your employees at all of the “security training” you want, but all it takes is one bad click and they’re infected. All it then takes is one infected computer on a network before “terrible things” can happen. Even if you manage to luck out and no other computers are infected, the amount of IT time it takes to investigate the whole thing and determine what the impact was is still massive.

    Sure your browser testers need access to Windows machines, and if Google was actually doing anything like you made up, they’d be morons. But accountants and HR people and programmers and … well most of the company really has no reason why they need Windows, and they can do just fine on Linux/Mac. So stop spreading fear and misinformation and try doing your job for a change.

  • Jeremy

    P.S. Sorry for the harsh tone, but when we live in a world where “research” is just 5-10 minutes of web browsing, it’s incredible to me to see someone who’s paid to write for a living not even bothering doing the barest shred of research before opening their “mouth” (keyboard).

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      As far as I’m aware, Google are yet to officially comment on this story? I note you haven’t cited your research sources?

  • Michael Houghton

    It’s perfectly possible for anyone with a legitimate reason to test browsers with IE to use either the VMWare/VirtualBox route, or for there to be a centralised Citrix/VNC type solution for this problem. I wouldn’t take ‘testing websites’ as a solid way to refute this. As has been pointed out earlier on, the way Google works (with frameworks such as GWT etc.) does not mean they actually need to test in all browsers at every step as they go along.

    • Jeremy

      Heh, well the GWT people would still need Windows machines to test that GWT works ;-) But that is a good point: Google has done their best to DRY-up their code base so that all the “deal with specific browser issues” code is isolated in one spot (GWT).

  • britishcoder

    I’m rather surprised anyone would write an article on such old news. This happened weeks ago and has already been debated ad nauseum.
    As another commenter stated, a former employee of Leo Laporte’s TWiT network left for Google(she had told him that if Google ever offered a job, she was out of there and who could blame her?) and told him she was offered a choice of a Mac or a Linux-based system.
    If you want a Windows system you have to ask the Chief Financial Officer(or Technology Officer, I believe)
    Like I said, this news is weeks old and it wasn’t even a really big deal back then.

  • Adelante

    Totally sus.

    Linux as a choice for a corporate workstation? What apps on Linux are used at the corporate level? Google docs!!! Come on now. How many of you would say “Fantastic!!! just what I want, a Linux workstation”.

    Apple Mac, at least that’s feasible but why put both in the same statement.

    Sounds dodgy to me.

  • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

    Incidentally, you can virtualise Windows on Linux and OS and get a 100% accurate representation of IE – because you’re not emulating software, you’re emulating hardware.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      Absolutely. But you’re still running a real licensed copy of Windows … which Google aren’t doing. Allegedly.

      • http://www.brothercake.com/ brothercake

        That’s true. But you can more effectively sandbox VMs to isolate them from the network most of the time, and thereby — if security is really the issue — reduce the risk.

        But whether or not this is ultimately true, I don’t think there’s much doubt that the purpose of it is to blow-smoke around Windows security for their own propaganda. Very cynical.