A week after debuting its plan for iterating software products and services (Windows and Office Live) on a "fast twitch" cycle, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will roll out the long twitch cycle products--Visual Studio 2005, SQL Server 2005 and BizTalk Server 2006--tomorrow in San Francisco. To remind those of you unfamiliar with the notion to twitch cycles, here's how Ballmer explained Microsoft's product development strategy during an interview at Gartner's Symposium ITxpo last month.
"The important thing we are focused in on across Microsoft is how through a combination of both product and through services that talk to those products—Internet-based services—all of our major businesses can have a short twitch capability–call that every six or nine months–a medium twitch capability and at same time we can’t stop doing the R&D that takes every three or four years to get done. We just can’t make our customers wait three or four years for things that should have been on more interim cycles. We try to orchestrate ourselves, so that we have innovations coming on all three of those cycle paths."
The twitch cycles also represent different aspects of Microsoft's business that are core to the company's financial future. The fast twitch is about mastering the Web as a platform, competing with Google, Yahoo and other Web purists. The medium twitch is the battle for knowledge worker revenue--the Office productivity software, some of the servers (e.g., SharePoint, Exchange) and other business applications for the desktop and hosted services. The long twitch is Windows/Vista/Longhorn and other major undertakings that carry the Microsoft legacy code forward.
Each twitch cadence has different sets of challenges and opportunities. Tryng to coordinate the fast twitch with Windows and server releases will leave Microsoft behind the Web purists. Tying all productivity software to the desktop Office suite ignores new market opportunities. Overtime time as Web computing grows, the Windows OS become less critical or differentiated in users' minds no matter how much Microsoft spends on marketing. Hence, Microsoft's latest announcement of Windows Live and Windows Office, which don't necessarily require the Windows OS, to extend the Windows brand into a new realm. The notion of a desktop is changing.
Infrastructure and tools like Visual Studio, SQL Server and BizTalk Server, are critical for monetizing Microsoft's Windows and Web platforms, and maintaining developer loyalty. It's a very big deal and business opportunity for Microsoft versus IBM, Sun and the open source players.
The most recent Gillmor Gang podcast with the usual cast (including myself) and guest Microsoft evangelist blogger Robert Scoble zeroes in on Windows and Office Live and whether the company's twitching will result in a successful (r)evolution of the 30-year-old software behemoth.