It's good news, bad news: Microsoft gets its Internet act together

It's good news, bad news: Microsoft gets its Internet act together

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Microsoft, Apple, Browser
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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]

Topics: Microsoft, Apple, Browser

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20 comments
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  • They had no choice...

    Back when Vista was Longhorn, the Microsoft hope was that fat client applications would use Internet protocols to deliver content to the desktop. The problem was that nobody was creating fat client applications anymore. By the time Vista was released, AJAX and related technologies changed the Internet application game forever. So Microsoft has no choice but to change. If you look at Microsoft inside corporations today, it is almost purely a desktop play with Exchange for email. Many LOB applications still reside either on mainframes or UNIX. If the age of nothing-but Internet applications is soon upon us, Microsoft needs to change. I know of several companies that refuse to look at Microsoft technology for certain B2B purposes because they cannot risk vendor lock-in. On the database side, sure SQL Server has market share, but many companies use it as an off-the-shelf application store as opposed to an enterprise DB. Most shops I know still run Oracle for mission critical purposes. Microsoft needs to open itself up if it wants to move beyond desktop/Office/Exchange.

    Now don't tell my rep!
    Mike Cox
    • Your rep

      will be verifying your id for your own peace of mind after that.
      Boot_Agnostic
    • Lock-in

      Mike, I love your serious side...

      Another term for 'vendor lock-in' is 'living with your decisions'. No matter what you choose, you're locking yourself in to some degree. IMO products should be evaluated on their merits, regardless of the name on the label.
      Real World
      • I'll sort of buy that

        Customers should exercise due diligence, to include the possibility of lock-in, but vendors are ultimately responsible for what they offer, just as customers are responsible for what they choose.

        The complete customer impartiality so beloved of monopolists (makes it easier to rig the game) is, of course, inadvisable.
        John L. Ries
    • Dirty tricks come back to haunt you

      MS has been doing the "because you have to" number for so long that people expect them to and are suspicious. The large number of enemies MS has succeeded in making over the last 20 years or so are a large part of that (it's not like ex-employees of the firms you gut are likely to go into a completely different line of work, or to revere you as a "winner").

      I think this is the first serious post I've ever seen you make on MS. You get a 9 for the last line.
      John L. Ries
      • Actually ...

        I have seen a couple. And he got ROYALLY Flamed the last time he did it.

        But his SERIOUS posts have always been unbiased and make perfect sense .. much opposite to the other oft posters here ...
        Linux_4u!
    • RE: It's good news, bad news: Microsoft gets its Internet act together

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      tank33
  • Its wide open

    I think that sometimes there standards gurus get a little carried away. Are standards a good thing? Sure. But are you telling me that a Windows "fat-client" is bad because it isn't "standard"?

    We live in interesting times. In the business world, standards are only part of the equation. Cost, time to market, profit, right sizing, innovation, product differentiation and agility are part of it to.

    Google Apps are cool and I use them. But no browser based UI at this point in time is going to beat even OpenOffice, let alone Microsoft Office. And then the question begs, if Flash a web app?

    My point is that it?s a wide open universe. Do you all think that in 20 years all things will be Flash and Ajax? There'll come along something else that redefines the standard.

    Openness and standards are great. Ingenuity is better!
    Heatlesssun1
  • Auntie Em? Toto?

    Microsoft is, once again, late to the party and still trying to push their business model on the rest of the IT world. You're dreaming if you think they're making any significant change as long as Ballmer is still calling the shots.

    Perhaps they're making a little progress on standards, but it's too little, too late. The big blow is coming from another direction:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/mar/06/opensource.olpc

    As hardware prices fall, it's making the cost of Windows a much bigger component of a computer purchase. So, if anything, it's the Eee PC and OLPC pushing MS into delivering value over the web. They know if they don't, they'll be on the outside of the service trend.

    This isn't MS turning over a new leaf, this is MS in panic mode. Desperately trying to find new revenue streams. GoogleDocs and OpenOffice are eating into Office sales, Vista is giant, steaming pile of loser, and as hardware prices drop it's coming clear how much of a PC purchase is paying for an OS they don't like.

    But we'll all breath a sigh of relief when we don't have to hack our style sheets for IE 6.
    Chad_z
    • Hacking style sheets ...

      This new application - you can access it from the office and from home. Set up is simple - all you need to install is Firefox to use it. You'll get an extra bonus that you can also use this to browse the web (more quickly) and be safe from many known infections.

      Microsoft lost the mindshare of influential technical people ages ago when they performed their marketing strategy of going above their heads - going straight to the CEO's who didn't understand the technology.

      And for us mere developers - if you can just write w3c stuff that works and save all of the pain (and "apparent excuses" some of the uninitiated might suspect) of then getting it to play in IE6 - heck your development time goes right down and your enjoyment and creativity goes right up.
      fr0thy@...
    • Sure it is

      And your post was meant in no way to promote [i]your[/i] Linux interests?

      I wonder [i]who[/i] is really in panic mode lately: Microsoft, or those whose pay comes from sources other then those related to Microsoft and it's products
      GuidingLight
      • AMEN - Good Point - sound defensive don't they

        or panicy at best
        ItsTheBottomLine
    • Clearly

      it's time for MS to buy finite hardware resources, buy up as many of the suppliers of the components that create the pcs, phones, pda's, media centers, and smart devices that they've tried shoe horning an OS into. Even as the price of creating a hardware product has gone done, the resources to create them are not infinite, and MS would do better to bid their money on those companies that supply it or own it versus a semi useless Yahoo in a fight against Google. We can breath a sign when they come to that conclusion, as it free up the OS and office suite as a free bundle to a hardware solution they'll provide. Software is infinite, hardware not so, like crude oil.
      Boot_Agnostic
    • Ohhh Puuuuleeeeaase. You really don't

      know your history or are some flipping hippied pushing the "open source dooood". Evertime some reject/wanna-be from the 60's says MS - "the man" is playing catch up and going to fail...he/she eat their words. How's that crow going to taste in a year or so.
      ItsTheBottomLine
      • hmm...

        I'd like to meet this "open source dooood" and shake his hand. Maybe he'll let me hide from the "corporate, blood sucking vampires!" - with all their software patents for the HELLO WORLD program
        marcfinnwilson@...
  • Third option - neither.

    Microsoft will bungle it and is trying to play catch-up. Not only that, but this whole "cloud" thing is overrated. One hack of SSDS and that is dead in the water. Etc.
    Techboy_z
    • LOL - that's funny...no really. I think a little company

      called Netscape thought the same thing...and Oracle thought the same thing... Next DA?
      ItsTheBottomLine
  • No objections

    Nothing wrong with some real competition (on the merits of the product). MS certainly has the resources to do that, but has too often been content to game the system instead.
    John L. Ries
    • It's the only way

      they have now, it's open or die, that's the good part, an open product must compete in the quality field, or some other may do the same thing, but better.

      That's the reason why I left windows, now lets see how well they compete against others in an "open arena".

      The best software will prevail (on a merits basis).
      maalmike@...
  • RE: It's good news, bad news: Microsoft gets its Internet act together

    The author is quoting Microsoft claims as fact, which is ridiculous.

    First, that Microsoft Cloud and "new" Internet services including
    online services do not force lock-in are false, since all of the Microsoft .NET technologies require Microsoft only base technologies. Silverlight "compatibility" through Mono (not Microsoft provided) is incomplete and contravenes the GPL3 copyright.

    Furthermore, comments about making Microsoft technologies preferable for ISPs through these new "Mesh" and other vapourware tools do not square with reality that more entities are moving to Apache and other "truly" Open Standards and Free/Open Source Software (FOSS) supported base.

    It is imperative that so-called tech journalists desist from reporting claims and statements from Microsoft as fact or foregone conclusions, when most of these announcements in the past - example Windows Vista - have been outrageously false and overstated.

    W. Anderson
    wanderson@nac.net
    wanderson