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In the age of AI: Microsoft VS Google

Written by UCD Professional Academy lecturer, Mark James

Google’s Bard may have taken its final bow, but in its place, Google has introduced Gemini. While it had a limited launch for business users just before Christmas to mixed reviews, it is now available to everyone including Irish users. As seemingly the following act to the lukewarm Bard, it is tempting to see it as nothing other than a re-brand. And much of the commentary I have seen in the media recently has framed it as such.

But I would argue that Gemini represents so much more. This is Google's true challenger to the market leader, ChatGPT. When OpenAI launched ChatGPT in November 2022, it caught many off guard, particularly Google who had been working on this technology for many years. In hindsight, Google’s Bard seemed more like a reflex action than a true release - "We built this technology too!". The irony is that the underlying architecture of ChatGPT has its origins in Google.

Trying to avoid its mistakes in not reacting quickly enough to the rise of smart phones, Microsoft were quick off the mark to invest in OpenAI and have been equally quick in integrating the technology into everything they do. With Google now finally up and running, the stage is set for what will likely be the defining battle in the Age of AI. But before we dig into Gemini etc., let's take a quick look at a similar period in the past and see if there are any lessons to be learned.

The Information Age; Computing in the 90's

Prior to modern graphical user interface-based Operating Systems like Windows, using a computer was quite intimidating for the average person. Before the 90's, you usually interacted with a computer through text-based systems. Remember DOS? To the average person, these must have seemed no different than computer programming. If I remember correctly, the user manual alone was about as thick as the typical college textbook! The introduction of Microsoft Windows and Apple IOS changed this, and their competition drove the development of intuitive and user-friendly computing. Now everyone can use one.

Though they were competitors, Microsoft and Apple largely played complementary roles in this transformation. Indeed, Microsoft saved Apple from bankruptcy at one point during this period by giving them a substantial loan. Microsoft Windows became synonymous with office computing in most industries, while Apple, with its focus on simple design and user experience, pushed the boundaries of what non-technical people could do with computers without getting bogged down with the technology. Apple became the computer of choice for creatives, while Microsoft left the hardware to other companies and focused on compatibility and wide-ranging features. Both companies made significant contributions to innovations that crossed over to the other in unique ways. This rivalry enabled the popular adoption of personal computers worldwide, which in turn accelerated the Information Age, the internet, social media etc. Competition is highly desirable for everyone in tech! Consumers and producers alike.

Microsoft’s AI Strategy

Building on its investment in OpenAI and ChatGPT, Microsoft recently released Copilot Pro, a premium subscription service designed to improve the functionality of applications like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook etc. with advanced AI features. There is a free version that is well worth trying out first. Copilot Pro offers significant advantages for users whose workflows are heavily embedded in Microsoft's ecosystem. And that’s the strategy – Microsoft is using AI as an enabler of advanced features across all of its platforms so that the value proposition of staying or joining their ecosystem is highly attractive.

Google’s AI Strategy

Like Microsoft, Google has now streamlined its approach to AI under one unified brand: Gemini. Gemini is Google's long-term Generative AI strategy. A singular, cohesive AI entity. It encompasses all of Google's AI services, including the advanced features formerly grouped under Duet AI in Google Workspace. Gemini AI is designed to be versatile, functioning as an assistant, a chatbot, and even a search engine. This multi-functionality sets it apart from other AI models, offering users a more integrated and comprehensive AI experience. Its primary interaction point for many will be through dedicated mobile apps, particularly on Android, where it replaces Google Assistant. Google want their platform to be conversational, multi-modal, and ultimately, exceptionally useful to people.

Gemini v GPT-4

While both Gemini and ChatGPT are powerful and interesting in their own right, in many ways they are mirror images of each other. Gemini's integration into Google's ecosystem, for instance, including its role as a default assistant and its incorporation into Google Workspace, is similar to Microsoft's strategy with GPT-4 and its blending into MS Office. The multi-functional nature of both makes them very useful for productivity focused people.

Like ChatGPT, the standard Gemini model is accessible to everyone for free. Also like ChatGPT, Google have introduced a subscription version which has enhanced capacity for context and longer conversations. This version is designed to excel in complex tasks such as coding and logical reasoning. This is part of the Google One AI Premium plan which is similarly priced to the paid version of ChatGPT and Microsoft Office Co-Pilot.

The Significance of Gemini and Copilot

Gemini's launch and Google's strategic efforts signal a major commitment to AI. This is the beginning of true competition among the AI giants. As Google positions Gemini AI to be as integral as its Search function, it demonstrates the company's belief in AI's central role in its business model. This move reflects the intensifying competition in the tech industry, particularly as ChatGPT is a major threat to Google's traditional business model. Google and Microsoft are both seeking to reshape the business model by integrating AI into daily digital interactions, making AI more intuitive, versatile, and accessible to everyone.

It is an easy argument to make that Microsoft Copilot is the largest improvement in Microsoft’s suite of services since they switched to a subscription model over a decade ago. It’s the first proper argument for making that switch have any value to users. Microsoft's collaboration with OpenAI has been pivotal in developing their AI capabilities. They signed a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar agreement in January 2023, which solidified Microsoft Azure as OpenAI's exclusive cloud-computing provider. Like Google with Bard, Microsoft quickly launched the Bing AI chatbot. But it was clear that both organisations were caught off guard by how quickly ChatGPT developed and was adopted by the world. Their AI strategies are only now starting to catch up.


The rivalry we are now seeing develop is an opportunity for collective growth. And we still haven’t seen Apple’s full entry into AI. They are rumoured to announce their competitor tech later this year and have recently launched their augmented reality product – the Apple Vision Pro. Meta/Facebook open sourced their AI model and are likely to find their own niche, likely closer to Apple’s strategy, than Google and Microsoft. Expect to see significant progress in the accelerating integration of AI into these companies tools, enhancing our digital experiences, making technology more integrated, intuitive, and inclusive in our daily lives.

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