Security not sole issue in Google’s dump Windows move

Google telling its employees to dump Microsoft Windows may be motivated by much more than security considerations, Canadian tech analysts say.

On Tuesday, a section of the media reported that the search behemoth giant asked its workers not to use the Windows OS, urging them instead to move to alternative systems, such as the Apple OS or Linux.

The Financial Times London reported that initiatives to ditch Windows actually began in January, shortly after Google’s Chinese operations were hacked.

Back then, Google had implied that Beijing was somehow involved in the attack exposing what appeared to be state-sponsored corporate espionage.

“We’re not doing any more Windows. It’s a security effort,” the Financial Times quoted a Google employee as saying.

Canadian tech industry observers, however, say the move could also be coloured by the two companies’ rivalry in the OS, mobile apps, and Internet search areas.

“Windows is definitely a big target for hackers, but I suspect something else besides security could be at play,” said Michelle Warren, principal of MW Research and Consulting, a Toronto-based strategic research and consulting firm.

She conceded the gravity of the attack on Google’s Chinese operations could warrant such drastic measures though.

“That said this is a necessary move for a company that faced such risks.”

Warren said media reports of Windows being ditched by Google would likely “hurt Microsoft’s image” while potentially helping Google.

She said Google’s 10,000 employees might represent a mere drop in the ocean of millions of Windows users, but the negative publicity for Microsoft “could produce some bruises.”

“This might be, to some extent, also a poke at Microsoft,” said Mark Taushek, director of IT research at Info-Tech research Group, in London, Ont.

But he said there’s no getting away from the fact that the hacking in China was the result of the Windows OS being compromised.

Google’s move to eradicate windows from its internal client IT infrastructure is “more optics than anything else,” said Carmi Levy, an independent tech analyst.

In pinning the blame on Windows, Google diverts attention away from internal security processes that likely also contributed to the debacle, he said.

“The company is in the midst of a full court press to establish itself as a bona fide player in the OS market.”

“Between Android and Chrome OS, Google wants to control as much of the client experience as it possibly can to ensure no one – not Microsoft, not Apple, not any other OS vendor – compromises its ability to deliver Google services on a wide range of devices and platforms,” Levy said.

“That was Google’s validation for the decision,” he said.

However, Taushek doubts many firms will follow Google’s lead in ditching Windows. “It’s not that Windows is less secure. The OS is simply deployed in more than 90 per cent of PCs, so Windows has a pretty big target sign on its back. However, not many companies can do what Google did.”

Google employees would typically be highly technical and capable of quickly switching quickly to systems like Linux, but most companies have employees steeped in the Windows tradition, Taushek explained.

Sudden mass migration from Windows could be a challenge both for IT and rank and file employees. “If not handled properly such a move could cause chaos.”

Taushek said Microsoft shops would also shun such a move because Microsoft software products are actually strong, versatile and well suited to many environments.

“A Windows machine definitely costs less than an Apple machine and a lot of business users and consumers are more comfortable using Windows than Linux.”  

In urging its workers to dump Windows, Google refrained from telling them to use the company’s own Chrome OS.

Taushek said this is because the system is not yet ready. “It’s basically a beta product.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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