Between my attendance to the W3C's recent Tenth Anniversary Celebration and Groove CEO Ray Ozzie's answer to a question I asked during my first stint as a panelist on the Gillmor Gang's IT Conversations, I have been wondering whether we're on the verge of yet to be announced reinvention of Microsoft. Recall that, after being caught by the Internet with its pants down, Microsoft crafted and executed a turn-on-the-dime strategy that, to this day, is unmatched in its breadth, scope, and speed when it comes to a sea-change by such a large company.
Conventional application architectures went virtually unmentioned at the W3C event. Instead, the dominant themes of the day -- both on and off stage -- covered such lightweight heavyweights such as browser-based applications, the Semantic Web, Resource Description Framework (whose implications stretch beyond the Semantic Web), Real Simple Syndication (RSS), and blogging. In support of these technologies, and others already supported like DHTML and lightweight plug-ins, at the Web's future center of gravity, is a slightly thicker client than today's browsers (but not so thick that it might be considered fat). Google, with virtually no legacy to protect , is free to go with that gravity's flow.> In fact, with the sort of resources that Google now has (thanks to its spectacular IPO), my expectation is that Google will lead the way as the test case for how far the Internet's newest platform-independent technologies can be pushed.
Then, as yesterday's IT Conversations panel discussion came to a close, and Ray Ozzie was finished describing where Lotus Notes came from and where the world was going to (hint: we've switched from organizationally established collaboration frameworks to ad-hoc collaboration frameworks that transcend any boundaries we can think of), I asked Ozzie, whose company (Groove Networks) is partially owned by Microsoft, whether the gestalt is one that he thinks Microsoft will itself transcend (as it has in the past). I also wondered openly whether Microsoft might look to resist any new paradigms in an effort to protect its businesses, and if so, how that might manifest itself on the end-user front. Although I didn't say it, in my head, I was thinking about the manifest destinity that Longhorn seems committed to and how, even though it embraces more futuristic ideas like rich HTML applications, the overall architecture still more closely resembles the old school, rather than the new. Might Longhorn be obsolote by the time it ships? Ozzie was clear that he couldn't answer for Microsoft but said this: The market is moving independently of Microsoft from what I can see... Whereas in the past, Microsoft could make a systems software decision and dictate what the market embraced, at this point in time, looking forward, the PC platform certainly looks to me like a commodity platfom."
Later, via e-mail, Steve Gillmor wrote "I think Ray's comment about Microsoft being out of the conversation was newsworthy." That newsworthiness hadn't occurred to me until I received his e-mail. So thanks to Steve who also wrote to me "Longhorn is already obsolete" for nudging me to blog it. My take? It's anybody's guess what shape and color Longhorn will finally take when it ships. But, in the "history will repeat itself" category, the chameleon-like Microsoft has already taught us that it can never be counted out and I've yet to see a reason that we should think otherwise.