A unifying theme for Microsoft?

A unifying theme for Microsoft?

Summary: David Berlind referenced this open letter by Eric Norlin in a recent Between the Lines blog post. In it, Mr.

SHARE:
TOPICS: Microsoft
48

David Berlind referenced this open letter by Eric Norlin in a recent Between the Lines blog post. In it, Mr. Norlin argues that Microsoft needs to present its customers a unifying theme that will fit its disparate products into a cohesive whole.

The need for such a theme is obvious. Microsoft is now involved in desktop and server operating systems, office productivity applications, customer relationship management systems, databases, gaming consoles, cell phone operating systems, hardware (keyboards, mice, even XBox hardware through for-hire manufacturing facilities), handheld operating systems, development tools, television broadcasting software, email systems, etc, etc, etc. What theme runs through all these areas, and how can Microsoft unify them into one compelling message?

Mr. Norlin suggests it is "digital identity," a thread that runs through the majority of Microsoft's work, and actually gives you a messaging platform that is cohesive and convincing.

Digital identify is certainly a thread, but it's one that few outside the technology domain will understand. Likewise, it won't encompass everything. Databases might be used to store digital identity, but it isn't really top of the stack when it comes to the creation of that identity. Ditto with IIS, a piece of infrastructure which might be used as part of a digital identity framework, but would only be considered a participant in the sense that steak, when eaten, gets turned into muscle tissue.

Norlin's proposal is a bit like declaring that an elephant is a big, long snaky creature that dribbles at one end and has a strong interest in peanuts. That's true, but it doesn't encompass all that it means to be an elephant. Similarly, digital identity focuses too narrowly on one thing that Microsoft does, and thus isn't a strong enough thread by which consumers might understand the Microsoft puzzle.

My suggestion might be yet another instance of describing an elephant by its body parts.  Even so, I think a better thread is the one David Berlind often mentions in his discussion of the Microsoft media juggernaut. Microsoft is building a media ecosystem that has no parallel, in the sense that no one else has one that is end-to-end, easily integrable and has as many third-party stakeholders.  Microsoft doesn't confine its ecosystem-building energies to media, however. Rather, Microsoft is, top, down and side-wise, a builder of ecosystems, and that is the impulse that drives everything that they do.

Microsoft positions itself as a one stop shop for technology that works seamlessly from cell phones to embedded systems to servers through desktops and on to game consoles. One of XBox's selling points was that the same skills used to build desktop games could be applied to console games. Microsoft aims to make .NET a consistent development platform that works on set-top boxes, handhelds, databases (Yukon), servers, desktops, cell phones, embedded systems, etc. Microsoft's development tools are a single solution used to develop product for everything that exists in the Microsoft ecosystem.

Ecosystems are only as useful as their spread. Microsoft, by extending their ecosystem, is simply fulfilling its role as ecosystem builder. This is something they are uniquely suited to do, as success at ecosystem building takes lots of experimentation, persistence, and money. Money is probably the most important of the three as it enables the first two, but clearly, Microsoft has all three in spades.

Is this better than Mr. Norlin's proposal? People have at least passing familiarity with biological ecosystems. Messaging platforms as basis for digital identity, however, is too far beneath the covers to be noticed by many outside of Information Technology circles.

It's worth nothing, though, that awareness of Microsoft's ecosystem-building ways appears finally to be percolating into Microsoft's competition. The decision by Novell, IBM and others to jump on the Linux bandwagon is sure sign that they understand that they need to use the language of ecosystems if they are to properly compete with Microsoft's home grown one. It's an open question if Linux will serve as a consistent-enough basis for a parallel ecosystem (I'm sure many of my readers disagree), but it's an indicator nonetheless.

Topic: Microsoft

John Carroll

About John Carroll

John Carroll has delivered his opinion on ZDNet since the last millennium. Since May 2008, he is no longer a Microsoft employee. He is currently working at a unified messaging-related startup.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

48 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Builder of Ecosystems

    So, what you're saying is that the unifying image of Microsoft would be the famous painting of the ceiling in the Cistine Chapel?

    I can agree with that -- it's pretty much the one I was pointing out earlier: the omnipresent, unquestionable authority over us all. Pretty much the company's mission statement.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • Unifying Theme = Pidgeonhole

    The entire argument that MS even needs a theme is plain silly. Look, Microsoft is one of, if not the most, recognized corporate names in the world.

    This "theme" thing is like saying trees need a theme for people to relate to and understand them, it just isn't so. Trees come in all shapes, sizes, leaves, bark, roots, etc. and yet everyone knows a tree when they see it.

    If someone really needs a "theme" I think Bill Gates gave them one in two simple words.

    "Windows Everywhere"
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • One additional thing about pidgeonholed companies.

      They allow it to build a box around them that creates a mind set about who and what the company is all about. In the software world that is a sure way to disaster. The ability to quickly change directions when opportunity presents itself is the hallmark of great companies, always has been, always will be.
      No_Ax_to_Grind
    • I agree, but...

      I think their theme (in this case, ecosystem building) is the thing that has made them such a success. It is the failure to understand that theme which has tripped up so many of Microsoft's competitors.

      I think the competition is starting to understand the theme, but never underestimate the power of "I'm smarter than Microsoft" thinking.
      John Carroll
      • And how was this theme built?

        "I think the competition is starting to understand the theme, but never underestimate the power of "I'm smarter than Microsoft" thinking."

        So you suggest every company in the planet behaves as "Here comes the invencible Microsoft"?

        Competitors have an almost unsurpassable barrier to overcome. Microsoft spent too much time unchallenged, at first because they had the aid of a bigger IBM, and later on - until government interferred - because they wrote entire new
        chapters in the anticompetitive behaviour book.

        You seem to criticize competitors because they won't create their own ecosystem, but the fact is that all of the conditions are temptatively created to prevent the creation of new parallel ecosystems.

        The alternative is to adhere to the ecosystem, and therefore forever remain dependent on Microsoft in every aspect.
        Anti_Zealot
        • Re: And how...

          [i]So you suggest every company in the planet behaves as "Here comes the invencible Microsoft"?[/i]

          No, and cloning Microsoft exactly isn't going to make someone beat them, either. However, plugging in to the ecosystem means making it easy for everyone within that ecosystem to play on your playground. You may have better toys, but at least there are lots of recognizable toys lying around for Windows ecosystem kids.

          [i]You seem to criticize competitors because they won't create their own ecosystem, but the fact is that all of the conditions are temptatively created to prevent the creation of new parallel ecosystems.[/i]

          To build a parallel ecosystem, you need to think evolution. You don't force fish to start breathing on land. You make moves incrementally, helping those water-breathing creatures to make the gradual shift to land-breathing. Throwing them onto the land will just result in a bunch of dead fish.

          If that doesn't make sense, I'll try to add detail in a later blog on that topic.
          John Carroll
          • Fundimental but rediculously common flaw.

            You sparked a pet peeve of mine when it comes to discussion of evolution. It bothers me because it is a misconception about evolution, or at least the way people describe it, that adds to its ultimate misunderstanding.

            "You don't force fish to start breathing on land. You make moves incrementally, helping those water-breathing creatures to make the gradual shift to land-breathing. Throwing them onto the land will just result in a bunch of dead fish."

            Doesn't work that way. What happens is they expand in all directions incrementally. Those that work, continue to expand in all directions. Those that don't work die. Those that work too well... also die. Overgaming your food source is a quick way to starvation.

            To state it more concisely. In evolution, addition is random. Selection is deductive.
            Zinoron
          • And also...

            It ususally takes a catasrophic effect to cause certain
            mutations to die out. You don't know what is the fittest to
            survive until circumstances ensue that cause one particular
            trait to be an absolute requirement.

            That hasn't happened to Microsoft, and likely never will.
            The same as it never happened to IBM - though Apple
            nearly committed suicide by refusing to adapt. If
            circumstances suddenly required a computer company to
            have a strong consumer product base to survive, Apple and
            MS would likely do fine but IBM would be in serious trouble.
            Likewise, if corporate marketshare was absolutely required,
            Apple would be dead in an instant. But neither is true.

            I am happy with ecosystem analogy, but only if Microsoft
            doesn't own the genetic code. That is where open
            standards come into play - anyone should be able to
            compete in the system without being required kow-tow to
            anyone else. There is no industrial system on earth that
            requires you to licence the basic tools to compete from one
            of the largest competitors.

            Allowing Microsoft to own the DNA of the ecosystem is like
            requiring every automobile manufacturer to buy a licence
            from GM before they can make cars.
            Fred Fredrickson
          • To apply to evolution to economy...

            You build an environment conducive to growth and expansion. Things that inhibit growth are things that will deform the ecology and make it vulnerable. I think you're right that Mircosoft is attempting to create an attractive environment for big dollar providers. But in the end the regulators are the consumers. They will find the prey that meets their tastes best. If there is an ecology that develops a more fluid and less restrictive experience. I think you'll see them move in that direction.
            Zinoron
        • Hard work, investment and time.

          "So you suggest every company in the planet behaves as "Here comes the invencible Microsoft"?"

          No but being aware of who your competition is and what they can do is a good start.

          "Competitors have an almost unsurpassable barrier to overcome."

          Not true (Apple seems to be doing fine) at all. You simply have to do it better than MS instead of copying them. (Oh joy, open source has a limited office suite that does half of what MS Office does. Yes sir, real competitive. NOT)
          No_Ax_to_Grind
          • Better than MS

            "Not true (Apple seems to be doing fine) at all. You simply have to do it better than MS instead of copying them. (Oh joy, open source has a limited office suite that does half of what MS Office does. Yes sir, real competitive. NOT)"

            I wasn't even mentioning opensource. As soon as a smaller company shows up with a commercial superior alternative for any of Microsoft's products, they are bought by Microsoft, and all of their hard work is immediately part of Microsoft's arsenal. So much for competing with merit...

            Yes, Apple is doing fine indeed, considering how much both opensource and MS copied from them. I really agree with you on that...
            Anti_Zealot
          • erratum

            ZDNet must love spam. Where's that "modify" button?

            I meant "copied" instead of "bought". It's true that MS buys IP instead of stealing ideas when they don't have a choice - but this seldom happens.
            Anti_Zealot
          • It's their choice to sell.

            Hey, I would love for MS to buy my company and I promice you I am not alone in that.
            No_Ax_to_Grind
  • Err.. the Windows logo?

    Maybe MS can follow the footsteps of Intel. Rather than worrying about what theme it truly represents, it should just put a sticker of "Windows Inside" or "MS rulz" on every thing that it can lay its hands on ;)

    I don't think MS really requires a theme, its one of the most famous brands in the world already...
    archnova79
    • Brand

      [i]I don't think MS really requires a theme, its one of the most famous brands in the world already[/i]

      Microsoft could take its cue from the big company that they may, someday, grow up to be like: General Electric.

      What's the "unifying vision" of GE? (I seriously doubt that most people are even remotely aware of the businesses that GE is in.)
      Yagotta B. Kidding
      • HP?

        For that matter, I guess MS can avoid taking HP's path. HP is stuck somewhere between being an IBM or a Dell. After the cut in the research budget, they can also delete "Invent" from their stickers, but that is way off topic!
        archnova79
      • Microsoft is in the software business.

        As you say, "most people are not even remotely aware of the businesses GE is in." But Microsoft doesn't have that problem. Even the hardware businesses are minor adjuncts to software.

        So I'm uncertain of your point.
        Anton Philidor
      • It would be easier..

        to list the businesses GE is not in :)
        Patrick Jones
        • GE

          To my knowledge they design aircraft engines, turbines, electric generators, heavy equipment and machinery, and maybe even help Marsians ;)
          archnova79
          • Couldn't agree more!

            GE, General Motors also comes to mind, all have diversified themselves quite a bit over the years (some with more success then others). In each of these cases these represent corporations with a broad set of product offerings which may or may not have a overall theme to their products. I don't believe this is actually terribly important unless there is some logic or need for such a theme.

            Clearly, in some cases this is required (one couldn't imagine the office products being independent from one another as example). So, I think MS is doing a decent job of, where it's necessary, providing integrations and a theme to their offerings.

            Just my 2cents....
            jcurrier