It could be described as a “vanity hire” if he weren’t also one the industry’s most interesting and prestigious names.

Having whiled away a decade at MCI WorldCom – he likes to work for interesting companies in interesting times – Vint Cerf has now turned up on the payroll of Google as its new “chief Internet evangelist”.

“I tried for Archduke, but it didn’t work,” says Cerf dryly.

Cerf is usually described as the “the father of the Internet”, a hyped title, but interesting given the symbolic rivalry between his new employers and Microsoft.

His signing can be seen as the latest in a growing list of boxes ticked by Google but not Redmond. You could equally say that big, successful companies don’t worry about such trivia, but perhaps there’s something in being vain sometimes.

Aside from its games division and a healthy bank of intellectual property, Microsoft is still mostly about its unloved operating system, corporate software, and old-fashioned desktop applications.

Google, meanwhile, has grown rich in paper (and even modestly profitable) on the back of a newer set of ideas that help people use and fashion mounds of information into something useful. If they are applications too, they are undoubtedly more valuable for the future.

As Microsoft was the main enabler of desktop computing, so Google is turning into the main enabler of the networked, information age. Perhaps that’s a little trite.

But why can’t one imagine Microsoft hiring such a figure, even for the mere prestige it brings?

Exactly what an Internet evangelist might want to do these days is hard to assess, but here’s a guess. Having helped invent a family of protocols to make the Internet open, it’s now become the infrastructure on which voice communications is being refashioned.

Cerf is bound to have some ideas from his time in telecoms on how to make this a lot more robust. He might even know how to make it secure.