From a variety of sources, I'm hearing the same thing that Robert Scoble is, and that is that Microsoft under Ray Ozzie is making major strides in giving Web developers what they want, opening the client-side stuff well with IE 8, putting core productivity apps as services online, and assembling the cloud-supported infrastructure to make a compelling new case for keeping Microsoft on the short list of premier tools, runtime vendors AND service providers.
The Google fear on the business model disruption, the Apple fear on the client disruption, and the Amazon fear on the cloud disruption, seems to be making Microsoft do what anti-trust regulators, Java, open source developers, Linux, Firefox, OpenDocument, IBM/Eclipse, Novell, and a chorus of Microsoft bashers like myself have been trying for many years. And that is ultimately to save Microsoft from itself.
At the PDC in LA a mere 2.5 years ago it seemed like Redmond was slipping backwards in time into a gradual descent with its Connected Computing drive, and with us all connected to the Indigo bus using only MS file formats. This was, as I said at the time, an attempt to make the web a client/server affair, with Microsoft's fat clients (not its browser) the client bits. Microsoft seemed to think it has whipped the wed sufficiently to go back to the old tricks -- integrated tools plus client monopoly plus closed packaged apps equals total domination.
Now, we're seeing a much different approach, of actually meeting the Internet on its terms, and making the Microsoft way shift -- and not the other way around. We'll see more open tools, plus less lock-in to the client monopoly, plus less closed and packaged services, with a differentiated subscription and ad-supported business model. Total domination, perhaps not; but long slog to irrelevance and demise -- no way.
With Silverlight, we see RIA tools that bridge client environments -- even non-Microsoft mobile runtimes and Linux. We're seeing an IE 8 that supports (rather than subverts) de facto and official web standards. With Microsoft Online Services you can side-step the closed fat client apps. We're seeing low-cost commodity infrastructure in the cloud with SQL Server Data Services instead of server lock-in. [Message to Sun: Get MySQL Services on your cloud ASAP, and for free!]
Yes, all those that have been surrounding Microsoft with 1,000 cuts for years, ganging up on them, picking on them, teasing them, disrupting their cash cows and taking the punch out of their arrogance -- you have done a great job. You mooned the giant, and the giant changed instead of charged. Jack did not get a chance to cut the beanstalk while the giant was still in descent. The giant went back to the lab in his castle, lead by Ray Ozzie. As a result, Google is not going to get away with chopping down the vine unmolested. Yahoo and Amazon are not going to combine to form the perfect web services/ecommerce cloud. Apple remains an elitist playground with a nice music businesses. Time Warner, AT&T, Motorola, Novell and Red Hat remain out to lunch. Microsoft will still generate enough gravity to hold IBM, SAP, HP, Dell, Intel, Nokia, and the global SIs in a tight orbit. And if Microsoft plays the advertising network card (with Yahoo) right, it will form a new center of gravity for media and entertainment (and perhaps business services) to provide the second source to Google.
Trouble is, this is a good news, bad news moment.
The good news is that Microsoft can change and adapt (a least in its intentions and early deliverables so far). The bad news is that Microsoft can change and adapt, even if they need to hamstring their traditional cash cows to do it.
Microsoft used to want to prevent the need for a web monopoly play (almost impossible by definition) by embracing and extending its way to keeping its monopoly as the gatekeeper to the business and commerce Web. Now it making the bold move to convert its old monopoly into the new largest comprehensive web player. It may not be number one in all things web, but it might be in the top three for most everything web -- and that is also the bad news.
Microsoft, the violator of anti-trust laws and the consent decrees and EU rulings, is now poised to become the second source to Google in the ad-supported media world. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
And that raises the same old questions. Will the power increase to a point where the openness declines? Will the standards over time be increasingly set by the de facto marker leader? Will the Internet and its efficiencies work best for consumers and users, or those that can manipulate it best?
On the other hand, has Microsoft shot itself in the foot by going so open that they can never go back? Is the lock-in on the web no longer possible, for one vendor to create a choke-hold with critical mass with enough influence to reinstall the Church and shut down the bazaar?
These are the questions we'll need to revisit in three years. Seriously.[poll id=29]