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Microsoft, Google Tread Water Abroad

So you think Microsoft is having a hard time in Europe? At least it owns the desktops on the Old Continent. Other parts of the world are another story.

Microsoft trotted out a well-meaning pay-as-you-go based strategy this spring -- the very embodiment of enlightened self-interest at work.

The program, called FlexGo, is patterned after prepaid phone cards.

It lets consumers boot up when they are flush with cash and shut down when they're dry, without fearing that the repo man will come for their hardware.

The idea was to reach out to folks who can afford a modest down payment on a computer, but whose income streams are too sporadic for them to qualify for credit.

Not only would this endear Microsoft to a whole new customer base, it could help convince governments in developing countries that they're better off buying technology from a people-friendly company than adopting cheaper open-source solutions.

Unfortunately, things haven't gone as planned.

In May, the company said it had successfully tested the plan in Brazil and was about to roll it out generally to India, Mexico and China.

But it's already September, and Microsoft still says only that it plans to open trials in India and Mexico "soon" -- and China seems off the table entirely.

The only update Microsoft provided me is that, "the purpose of the trials is to find the right solution for each individual market, so it takes more time to find the right mix."

Microsoft isn't pointing any fingers, but my guess is that it's having more trouble than expected with its partners in retail, telecommunications and hardware manufacturing -- all of whom have to be part of the extended solution.

That's a shame, because the world could use more examples of companies who make a buck and do the right thing at the same time.

Google Needs to do More

Google is another American company whose vast global ambitions are getting a dose of Montezuma's Revenge.

Sheryl Sandberg, Google's vice president of global online sales and operations, admitted that the search giant needs to develop more localized approaches in China and Korea if it wants to be successful in those markets.

"Korea is a test market for us. We know we need a local answer in that market," she told a group of investors here in New York.

However, Sandberg said that Google is "strong in many emerging markets."

"We've seen solid growth in Japan and we're strong in India," she noted.

As with many companies, Google is learning the hard way that even a beloved icon (Mickey Mouse and the Golden Arches come to mind) can have trouble translating its happy face abroad.

Microsoft to buy whom? Okay, SAP is not for sale.

Still, with so much consolidation in the enterprise software space, Nick Patience, director of software research at The 451 Group, was of a mind to muse about the unthinkable.

He told me that SAP founder Hasso Plattner has been quoted as saying that only three companies could buy SAP -- IBM, Google and Microsoft.

So would Microsoft buy SAP?

"It's certainly within the realm of possibility," he said.

Google good enough?

Initial reactions to Google Apps for Your Domain were less than stellar.

Google confirmed Microsoft's worst fears and secret hopes earlier this month when it launched productivity tools in "the cloud."

But the functionality was so bare bones, Microsoft's sigh of relief could be heard across the Continental Divide, and many observers noted that this wouldn't be the first solution Google would throw at the wall and then ignore.

But not everyone is ready to bury Google in the enterprise.

Forrester analyst Matt Brown has seen what a determined Google can do inside the enterprise with its Google Search Appliance, so he's not quite ready to write the obituary for this solution.

"They're making a bet that they can provide tools that are good enough for the market segment just below enterprise," he said.

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