Apple vs. Google: This time it's personal

After years of cooperating, the two Silicon Valley titans are suddenly at each other's throats

It's gloves-off time for two of Silicon Valley's darlings, and if they're not careful, one of them might get their hair mussed.

Last week, Google CEO Eric Schmidt jumped -- or was pushed -- off the Apple Board of Directors, and Apple's terse announcement of same was less "thanks for your years of support and dedication" and more "see ya, wouldn't want to be ya."

Unfortunately, as Google enters more of Apple's core businesses, with Android and now Chrome OS, Eric's effectiveness as an Apple Board member will be significantly diminished, since he will have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest. Therefore, we have mutually decided that now is the right time for Eric to resign his position on Apple's Board.

Next thing you know, they'll be crossing out each other's names on their PeeChee folders and writing "LUZR" instead.

Of course, Schmidt couldn't have been too pleased when the Inscrutable Mandarins who run the iPhone App Store summarily booted all Google Voice applications, because they committed the most heinous crime of all: duplicating (or improving upon) functions already built into the Jesus Phone.

Now the FCC wants to know what exactly Apple had in mind when it muted Google Voice, and whether these two kids will be able to play nicely together in the future.

Meanwhile, according to the Washington Post, the Department of Justice is sniffing around both companies (as well as Yahoo, Genentech, and others) to see if there's some kind of unwritten Gentlemen's Agreement saying they will not poach each other's employees. That's known as collusion, and it's not something you're supposed to do in polite company and/or when the feds are watching.

TechCrunch says the deal was more subtle; both companies agreed to not hit on each other's employees, but if the employees made the first move, all bets were off.

Now suddenly all these stories are appearing about a "clash between the tech titans" (including, of course, this one). Given how both companies expertly manipulate the media, the skeptic inside me wonders how much of this "clash" has been manufactured for the benefit of the federales.

DOJ thinks you're too chummy? Have your CEO resign from their board. Make a big fuss over some $2 apps. Plant a few memes in the blogosphere and let them spread like kudzu.

I'm not saying Apple and Google aren't competing. The mobile Net is the future, and whoever has the coolest OS and apps will win the lion's share. On the other hand, this isn't a zero-sum game. There isn't going to be one winner and bunch of carcasses laying around. There's enough wildebeest for nearly everyone to have some white meat.

But not this week. This week it's all about how Apple and Google are at each other's throats.

Coming up: Eric "The Pitbull" Schmidt and Steve "I've got an iPhone and I know how to use it" Jobs in an Ultimate Fighting Championship grudge match. We'll invite the UFC Octagon girls and make it a party.

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Robert X. Cringely

InfoWorld
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