Google CEO Eric Schmidt is joining the board of Apple Computer. Om Malik thinks this could lead to closer cooperation between the two, and headaches for Microsoft. Maybe, but I don't think so. Eric Schmidt is a great choice for a board seat at Apple, but I wouldn't jump to conclusions about where that might lead each company.
Several months ago there was a big joint press conference between Google and Sun Microsystems. Eric Schmidt was formerly CTO of Sun so the speculation was that they would cooperate on several levels, perhaps releasing a special version of StarOffice to compete with Microsoft. The speculation was wrong and the press conference was basically a non-event.
Strategic alliances, board seats, and press releases make for good stories, but business is driven by real customer demand for products and services. Years ago when I worked in business development we called these things "Barney Agreements". You know..."I love you, You love me, ..."
Nothing really happens unless money changes hands. Each company will do whatever is in their best interest. More specifically, each salesperson still has a quota and will do whatever it takes to make it happen. Most times strategic alliances only confuse the sales process or slow it down.
Even when strategic alliances turn into a merger it is still hard to find the synergies. Remember AOL and Time Warner? AOL was the dominant Internet company at the time, and Time Warner was the biggest content provider in the world. Television, movies, music, magazines...they had it all. AOL would be the perfect Internet channel for all this content. The synergies were limitless. Well, we all know how that turned out.
The best partnerships, and the best mergers, are customer driven, where customers demand and pay big bucks for products from two separate companies but want them to work together seamlessly. On the other hand, it rarely works when two companies decide to cooperate on something and then try to create customer demand for it.
Could Google and Sun cooperate on a StarOffice product to compete with Microsoft Office? Could Google and Apple cooperate on an iTunes product to crush Zune before it launches? Could Google and Mozilla cooperate on a product to compete with Internet Explorer? Sure, there are lots of synergies smart people could imagine. But unless there is pent up customer demand...it isn't going to matter.
UPDATE: ValleyWag contributes "Six effects of Eric Schmidt joining Apple's board" I think Nick Douglas is onto something with his secret sources.