It's already old news that Microsoft and Yahoo! may be contemplating some sort of partnership or merger (originally reported by the Wall St. Journal so it must be true!). The idea isn't too far-fetched given that there's already some degree of alignment between the two. Last October, I wrote about how Microsoft and Yahoo have a mutual enemy in Google Part 2 of Microsoft's winning one-two punch with businesses (Windows-Office) has already been marginalized by the OpenDocument effort. who is coincidentally also aligned with Sun (another company that Microsoft is traditionally out-of-alignment with). But the alignment isn't just at the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend-level.
The two are also currently aligned around digital rights management technology (DRM) too. DRM, for those who haven't paid much attention, is the key to the converged kingdom where the boundaries between content and technology are so blurrred, you can't distinguish between the two. Let's see, that covers just about everything digital that's known to mankind. Need proof? Apple's DRM (called FairPlay) is the key to the way Steve Jobs so confidently told the world's top 4 record labels to go "stick it" when they wanted to change the price on the music they sell. The record labels ran home with their tails between their legs. DRM now completely overshadows the convergence between technology and music (audio). Movies aren't far behind, and text and images will come after that. The man who owns the DRM (what I renamed CRAP) is in charge.
In Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft also have a mutual enemy. Microsoft makes DRM technology as well and wouldn't mind having one of those keys or even better, taken Apple's away. Yahoo has a subscription music service that competes against Apple's iTunes Music Store; one that relies on Microsoft's DRM technology.
Up until recently, the pressure from Google on the two well-aligned companies has been very intense. But not enough, apparently, for Microsoft and Yahoo to push a deal through. Yet. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is on record as saying that Microsoft will keep Google honest. But looking at Microsoft's strategy to strap Office productivity to the Web and to make online advertising a key piece of its business going forward -- two important places Microsoft would very likely not gone had it not been for Google -- is evidence that suggests it's currently the other way around.
And then came Nick "Mr. IT Doesn't Matter" Carr's post yesterday which sheds some interesting light on the Google train heading to Redmond. In an analysis that largely draws from Ben Worthen's story in CIO magazine, Carr wrote:
....most of the computing assets traditionally owned and maintained by individual corporations will come to be owned and maintained by outside utility suppliers....Where things become dicey is in figuring out how adaptable that infrastructure - and Google's business model - will prove to be in supplying the computing needs of businesses. Because Google presents a Kremlin-like enigma to outsiders, its inner workings and its plans are open to speculation. It's easy to assume that there's much more behind the Googleplex's drawn curtains than has been revealed....
......Rather than enter the enterprise through the CIO and his staff, Google is looking, [Google's Dave ] Girouard implies, to bypass the IT Department altogether. It will simply go on providing an ever larger set of simple, flexible services, and it will leave it to individual workers and the business units they're part of to, in effect, cobble those services together into an entirely new corporate IT architecture....
Sound familiar? If you were an IT manager in the 80's like I was, it sure does. This is exactly how the PC upstaged the IT department in a revolution that took most companies a decade or more to reel into control. The early PC's were exactly that: a bunch of relatively simple things technologies that some very enterprising end-users took upon themselves to cobble together. History will repeat itself. Part 2 of Microsoft's winning one-two punch with businesses (Windows-Office) has already been marginalized by the OpenDocument effort. And now, this. Still not convinced? Check out Girouard's title at Google: General Manager, Enterprise Division. Kremlin-like enigma? If that doesn't tell you something about intent, I don't know what does.
The big question at this point is time. Does Microsoft have enough of it to keep Google honest before the Google train arrives in Redmond. It's hard to tell. In his post, Carr quotes Worthen who quotes Weather Channel CIO Brian Shield who says:
We're still far away from a holistic Web computing solution. But the pieces are not that far away. We're not far from fostering greater productivity with Google's name on it.
What pieces might those be? If you ask me, the biggie is being able to work with the Web even when we're not plugged into it or the applications on it that we need. The Web unplugged. We could lose connectivity (like in an airplane). Our application service providers can, have, and will unexpectedly go down. The list of reasons that the Web needs to continue working for us, even when we're not connected to it is long enough that it's a key factor to Google's success. How that problem gets solved has been the subject of an ongoing discussion in my other blogs about offline persistence, synchronization, and the roles that technologies like Java and Flash can play in a very different and arguably more efficient computing model.