Google and Microsoft are rivals, and they have been for some time. Everybody knows that. But what was previously a healthy rivalry between two of the most prominent names in technology increasingly looks like a bar-room brawl.

Earlier this week, the two companies became involved in a very public spat that created a social media spectacle and led TechCrunch’s MG Siegler to write, “Wow, Microsoft and Google are punching each other in the face right in front of us.

Stolen Search Results, or Sabotage?

The subject of the fist fight: Google’s claim that Microsoft is stealing its search results. The claim originally surfaced on Search Engine Land, and Google followed it up with a more detailed post provocatively entitled “Microsoft’s Bing uses Google search results—and denies it”. 

The long and short of it: Google has presented evidence it believes shows beyond any doubt that Bing has been copying some of Google’s results.

Yesterday, Microsoft issued an official rebuttal: not only does Bing not copy Google, the results that Google says are copied look the way they do because Google “engaged in a ‘honeypot’ attack” which used “click fraud” to poison the anonymous clickstream data collected in an opt-in fashion via the Bing toolbar.

According to Microsoft, its use of clickstream data is no secret, and Google essentially set out to sabotage it.

WebM and H.264

The public fighting between Google and Microsoft isn’t limited to search.

Google took a lot of heat recently when it surprisingly announced that its Chrome browser would not support H.264 video for HTML5’s

Yesterday, Microsoft questioned Google’s move and bluntly raised numerous questions about WebM’s legitimate status as a standard. It also posed a direct question to Google: will the company indemnify users of the WebM codec against intellectual property claims?

In the end, Microsoft Corporate Vice President Dean Hachamovitch concluded “Consumers and businesses want confidence that video on the Web will continue work – and that they will not face legal risk for using it. Google’s decision to drop support for H.264 from its browser seems to undermine these goals.

What Does It All Mean?

What has caused Google and Microsoft to make their beefs so public? In my opinion, it all boils down to competition. But not necessarily competition between the two companies.

While Google and Microsoft do battle with each other, they also have to contend with emerging players, such as Facebook. They know that to ensure a good seat at the table of the web of the future, and to maintain what they already have, everything is a battle front, from browsers and codecs to web standards and search technology.

Unfortunately for Google and Microsoft, both have made some significant mistakes and both companies may not be as confident about their dominance on the web of the future as we might expect them to be.

Despite Microsoft’s efforts with products like Bing, the Microsoft brand still conjures up bad memories for many consumers, and the company still has an uphill battle proving that it has their interests at heart.

It knows this, and sometimes it tries too hard. Google, on the other hand, today looks more like Microsoft than the innovative upstart it was little more than a decade ago. While the company has entered new markets, like mobile, it is increasingly receiving criticism about the state of its core search offerings. It too recognizes its flaws.

In short, Google and Microsoft are frustrated and they’re taking it out on each other because there are few other competitors with whom to fight. But that’s a losing proposition.

The winning proposition: stop fighting battles that only techies and the tech media care about and get back to focusing on consumers and your own products. That’s all that matters anyway.

Photo credit: Polina Sergeeva via Flickr.