Google needs to read the 'Hailstorm' history books

Summary:You'd think with so many former Softies on the payroll, Google would know a thing or two about avoiding mistakes Microsoft already made. But if you look at the just-announced Google Apps Premier Edition, it seems Google missed at least one lesson that Microsoft learned the hard way.

You'd think with so many former Softies on the payroll, Google would know a thing or two about avoiding mistakes Microsoft already made.

(I know at least one Google employee who is quite well-versed in Hailstorm and could remind his current employer of the follies of his previous one, Microsoft.)

But if you look at the just-announced Google Apps Premier Edition -- a suite of Web-based e-mail, calendaring, messaging, wordprocessing, spreadsheet applications -- it seems Google missed at least one lesson that Microsoft learned the hard way.

Many businesses don't want their data to be stored offsite. Many also don't want a third-party middleman (even one that pledges it will "do no evil") to host their data.

(My ZDNet blogging colleague Larry Dignan has a laundry list of other potential corporate objections to Google's hosted app suite.) 

Sure, Google is touting newly signed customers General Electric Co. and Procter & Gamble as proof that even the largest businesses will find Google Apps Premier Edition's $50 per user price irresistable.

But Microsoft initially had a lot of big-name partners -- including American Express, eBay and Expedia -- onboard when it announced Hailstorm in March 2001, too. And it was piloting Hailstorm with a number of key Microsoft customers, as well.

Microsoft's "Hailstorm" project -- a ka ".Net My Services" -- was supposed to allow consumers and businesses store their information on Microsoft-hosted systems. Eventually, Microsoft even offered businesses a loophole: The company would allow businesses to keep their precious data on premise, with the back-end servers located inside their own companies, rather than in Microsoft's datacenters.

While Microsoft's Live initiative initially looked and sounded an awful lot like Hailstorm, Microsoft isn't making the mistake (at least so far) of trying to own the entire infrastructure this time around. Passport is dead. Windows CardSpace, its successor, is being designed to work with other digital-identity platforms, like OpenID and non-Microsoft infrastructure products, like Apache.

Bottom line: Microsoft customers and partners didn't like the Hailstorm idea one bit. Microsoft was forced to scrap Hailstorm in April 2002, just over a year after unveiling its uber-Web-service plan.

Wonder if Google will suffer the same fate, or at least be forced to find a way to appease businesses loath to part with their data by providing them with a way to keep information on site?

Topics: Microsoft

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

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