Wake me up when Google buys Dell

8 January 2006

PR Steve Rubel has accused hacks of sleeping on the job, especially at weekends. Well, they probably were, but the stories he points to are not things to get you out of bed and on the horn to the senior flacks at Dell and Google over your Saturday bacon and eggs.

So, what did they not do? Just what is the collective laziness of the MSM keeping from you? Well, at the end of last week, apparently, Dell started shipping PCs with a slightly modified browser setup. The change was that Dell decided to make the default home page for browsers installed on its home PCs an iGoogle page designed for Dell customers. At the same time, Dell had installed Google Desktop. Now, there are a number of things that have happened recently that make me wonder whether we have fallen through a hole in time and we are re-running the mid-1990s. This is one of them.

For more than ten years, browser suppliers, portals and search engine providers have been convincing - or just paying - PC makers to make their wares the first thing the punter sees when they plug in their shiny new hardware and try to fire up the interweb. Since then, these deals make the news on occasion. But that is generally only when there is an indication that the deal actually changes the business dynamics of the hardware or software industries. For example, Opera's shift to shipping a free browser was made possible, in part, by sponsorship from Google. That was a change in business dynamics. But, even then, the Google involvement was a small part of the overall story.

Google hosts the web page for Dell owners on a part of the Google site designed for customised web page - not an expensive move, I suspect. That, for me, does not indicate much of a shift in how either Dell or Google goes about its business. You could make an argument for it being a finger in the eye for Microsoft - but is that a vital part of a more important story or just some commentary on the fluid nature of Internet-related deals?

Google is a hot company right now, so there is an argument for running just about any story on the deals it makes. But I think with this one, any news editor would want to know that there is more to it - if there is anything unusual about the deal - before committing someone to that story. Otherwise, it's just "PC maker tweaks software bundle". Whoop. De. Doo.

Rubel went further to admonish the PRs at those companies for not fast-tracking a release on what they just did through the approvals process. Even if there was a release prior to this change, would anybody have cared enough to do more than edit it and post it? The chances are that neither Dell nor Google planned to produce a press release. Neither company is so profligate with releases that a deal of this nature would result in one.

Could the media have 'scooped' this story? Unless hacks bought a Dell PC every week or rang Dell up every few days to ask "have you changed the software bundle?", it seems not. The general public will have one over the news media every time on stories like this because people external to the company can provide the most timely information. If they are bloggers, they will blog it. No matter what day of the week it is. If PRs think hacks are going to chase their tails on this kind of story, they need to think again. Quickly.