Are all 'open' Web platforms created equal?

Are all 'open' Web platforms created equal?

Summary: There's been a lot of talk lately about various Web platform vendors opening up their programming interfaces in order to make their offerings more readily customizable and programmable. Yet Microsoft, which has opened up to developers, a bunch of its Windows Live APIs, is not part of these conversations. Why?


There's been a lot of talk lately about various Web platform vendors opening up their programming interfaces in order to make their offerings more readily customizable and programmable.

Are all ‘open’ Web platforms created equal?Facebook has opened up its social-networking platform to developers. Google is poised to open its Orkut social-networking application programming interface (API) to allow third-party developers to write plug-in apps. MySpace has been said to be opening (and then, not ready yet to open) its APIs.

Who isn't mentioned in any of these conversations? Microsoft. Is it because Microsoft hasn't opened up its various Windows Live APIs to other developers? Nope. Microsoft announced in late April its plans for opening up and providing licensing terms for several of its key Windows Live APIs, including Windows Live Contacts, Windows Live Spaces Photo Control and Windows Live Data Protocols.

So why is Microsoft seemingly irrelevant to the conversation, when it comes to opening up its Web platform? There are a few different theories.

"I think the excitement about the Facebook platform stems from the fact that it addresses the problem of building publicity and distribution for a new application. Any developer can create an application for Facebook, and the social network will help propagate that application, exposing it to new users," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

"The Microsoft APIs don't address that problem. Rather, they essentially let developers outsource certain features--for instance, a developer may not be capable of building its own mapping service to power some location-aware app, so instead they use the Virtual Earth SDK (software development kit) to connect to Microsoft's mapping service."

Does that mean Microsoft's opening up is less thorough/admirable? Rosoff notes that "Google's done the same thing (as Microsoft) with its APIs."

Even though Microsoft was technically first to publish a suite of Web-platform APIs, it is seen by many (rightly or wrongly) as an old fogey in the Web 2.0 world, said Peter O'Kelly, an analyst with the Burton Group.

"I think many market observers and developers consider both Microsoft and Adobe 'old school,' and put more emphasis on more recent, pure-play "Web 2.0" alternatives in part because that's where a lot of the market (and investment community) buzz is these days.

However, O'Kelly noted, "especially when you consider the partners Adobe and Microsoft tout at their respective conferences (e.g., between Adobe and Microsoft, eBay, Coca Cola, the BBC, and even 'co-opetition' scenarios such as AOL and Yahoo), it's clear that many Adobe and Microsoft partners are placing strategic bets on Adobe and Microsoft services, headlines and blogosphere buzz or not."

But a programmer with a major Web 2.0 vendor, who asked not to be named, said the playing field itself has shifted but Microsoft's positioning has not kept pace.

"I think it's very important for all of us to understand that when we use the word 'platform' to refer to what's going on today on the Web, it takes on a very different meaning than the old-school 'Platform' that powered Microsoft through the wave of PC-centric computing," the developer said.

"The modern platform thats emerging today in the era of network-centric computing is not, should not, and will never be dominated by a single entity," the developer continued. "Instead, the (new) Platform is a composition of best-of-breed APIs and services from all over the web. Each company has unique strengths, and when they make the choice to enable API access to their most widely know and strongest assets the platform naturally grows."

In this brave new world, "application are free to pick APIs and services from a large and growing platform," the developer said. "They are never blocked by lack of platform functionality because, if there is a weak spot in the platform, it's quickly filled by existing/new companies that are natural leaders in that space and see the opportunity to help flesh out the platform."

Google has contributed APIs in the area of search, video and mapping, the developer continued. Facebook has contributed social-networking APIs. has the best-of-breed book search API, he said.

"The 'Platform' is not dominated by a single entity. The 'Platform' is made up of Best of Breed APIs/services from zcross the Web," the developer said.

Microsoft has yet to figure out what its "best of breed" components are and to contribute those to the Platform, with a capital "P," he said.

And in the interim, Microsoft "needs to grok that the modern platform is a collection of components from all over the Web, that no single entity will succeed in trying to supply a comprehensive offering, and that the API-switching costs are extremely low so that if they ever do manage to contribute a world class component, they can't rest on their laurels. They need to keep innovating and supplying increased value or developers will move on."

Microsoft, for its part, believes it is offering Web platform APIs the way that developers want, making them available under different business terms and permitting third parties to customize them inside their own sites, according to George Moore, General Manager of Windows Live. But Moore also acknowledges Microsoft has a different outlook in terms of which data it exposes via its APIs.

"Facebook gives you access to your social-graph (social-networking) data. We don't do that. We have a gallery that allows users to extend Live Spaces," Moore said.

Moore declined to comment on when or if Microsoft planned to allow developers to tap directly into user's social-graph data like Facebook has done.

Microsoft also has a different approach toward how it allows third parties to participate in the Windows Live ecosystem.

"Facebook provides a nice, comprehensive and unified destination and distribution platform," said Moore. "We're doing this, too, with first-party experiences that can be customized. But we are also doing separate distribution deals, like one it minted with QuickSilver Europe in September, via which QuickSilver, not Microsoft, is acting as the distributor of Windows Live services -- like Messenger, Silverlight and other offerings.

At the same time, Microsoft wants to be the "wholesaler for the development community" with compute and storage services in the cloud, Moore said. This is where Silverlight Streaming and even hosted Office Live Workspace fit in, he said.  Microsoft provides the back-end infrastructure for these hosted services so that developers don't have to, Moore said; they can simply build apps that take advantage of Microsoft's cloud-based backbone.

Microsoft definitely has a markedly different strategy than Google, Facebook and other Web platforms, in terms of what "open APIs" mean and how they're meant to work.  Will Microsoft's more traditional definition of "platform" translate beyond the Windows world into the Web 2.0 one? Developers: See any pluses or minuses in the way Microsoft is targeting the Web-platform world , compared to the approaches its competitors are taking?

(Open for Business. Image by Twyford. CC 2.0)

Topics: Microsoft, Amazon, Browser, Google, Operating Systems, Software, Software Development, Windows, Social Enterprise


Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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  • facebook open api's

    I think open api's are only useful when they become a utility and there is a need for it. In my opinion many of the facebook apps simply do not extend the networks utility simply because they are superfluous and excessive. Google's api for maps is pretty useful, but unless these sites find a way to make them useful and necessary like facebook's classmate finder for example, the networks useful data maybe more difficult to find and mine. People should be free to choose to create and place these api's on their pages but there should be a standard, otherwise you're going to have just another myspace page. I think Microsoft is playing its cards right by being deliberate. That's just my take on api's
  • Facebook, Google making mistakes...

    The real mistakes are being made by Google and Facebook for not developing their services on Windows Live. Windows Live is to the Internet what oxygen is to mankind - air. I have mandated to all of my MCSDs that Windows Live will be used, and will be used without mercy for all new web development. When one of them questioned the complexity of the service, I fired him on the spot and had him escorted out of the building. HR said he is now suing us but I told them that was their problem, not mine. I told them to use Vista and Windows Live Search to come up with a defense strategy and leave me out of it completely. With that, my rep and I took over the executive conference room for a Halo 3 competition.
    Mike Cox
    • Google making mistakes...

      Well Mike that was one of the dumbest things I have read in a long time! We now have a new meaning for the word Shallow!
      • Obligatory "new here, aren't you"

        That, or a lackluster attempt at satire on your own part.
        • new here

          New no, but Mikes horrendous attempt at satire was expected and devoid of humor!
      • Mike Cox as camp

        I've been harboring a theory for some time about our Mr. Cox, and this last bit just absolutely nails it.

        The guy who keeps posting as Mike Cox is a recovering former Microsoftie who, having seen the error of his ways, likes to come up with innovative ways to skewer the over-the-top Microsoft-at-any-cost mentality that is dragging down our craft.

        No rational company could have a true Mike Cox in a position of responsible authority and stay in business, even in the Microsoftian customer-abusive, buzzwords-over-reality dysfunctional IT shop that Mike has portrayed over the years. At some point, the business needs IT to actually [b]accomplish[/b]something, and that is highly implausible in the me-and-my-MS-rep worldview that Mike has skewered to perfection.

        What Sacha Baron Cohen has done for Kazakhstan, what George Bush and Dick Cheney have done for good government, Mike Cox provides as a public service view of the Microsoft mentality.... a warning to managers everywhere: follow the well-marketed path at your [i]extreme[/i] peril! Bravo, "Mike"!
  • RE: Are all 'open' Web platforms created equal?

    Informative Mary Jo keep up the good work!
  • You know, you really are ...

    ... the Jonathan Swift of the IT industry. I so look forward to your posts.
    • Oops, meant to post under Mike Cox's msg

  • So developers are expected to keep up with"best of breed"...

    ... resources, and not use a complete service which can simplify the job.

    Rejecting an answer available and easy to use in order to search using primary or secondary sources for a marginally better product might seem a waste of time. In fact, it is a waste of time.

    The question for Microsoft is whether its tools etc. do the job sufficiently well. And not which of its products may be considered better than all the obscure bits and pieces that a start-up has recently decided to offer.

    There's a reason the surviving software companies offer large and expanding collections of software that are assured to work well together.
    Anton Philidor
  • Where's Microsoft in Web 2.x?

    I think there are three parts to this:

    1. The conventional wisdom of developers tends to discount Microsoft in this space, perhaps as part of the desire to be unique and part of a new and independent movement (it is a little of the early no-stinking-mainframes PC-karma payback perhaps).

    2. Microsoft's offering don't excite investors and entrepreneurs. Microsoft is not looking for funding and cannot produce anything like the buzz around Facebook valuations, and so on. There also seems to be a funding discount on innovators with regard to choosing Microsoft platforms to the extent there is dreat that one can be obsoleted by a Microsoft maneuver.

    3. Microsoft is building out whatever its support for the "P"-platform may be in a bottom up progression. It is very difficult to piece together a coherent picture of how the structure will look when completed and how hospitable to developers and custom applications it will be (it not being clear that even Microsoft is certain at this point). This leaves apprehension with regard to degrees of open-ness, durability of the features, and committed availability of the services over time.
    • Oh, and Microsoft Delivers Differently

      This link was in my morning e-mail as part of a weeky notice to Microsoft Partners. Get a Windows LiveID and you can partake. (Since LiveID and Information Cards are going to be part of this, it is worthwhile to have the experience if you haven't already.)

      I agree to the comment about standards with regard to some of the APIs.

      It is interesting that Microsoft portrays their offering as a suite of Windows Live Services. I'm waiting for the dots to be better connected so we can appraise its coherence and the edges of openness. Microsoft does seem to be accelerating its efforts, and no one else is standing still either.

      It would be quite remarkable were Microsoft able to spear-head creation of a set of open arrangements for a social grid that let us all slice and dice our own social graphs and networks with the requisite safety, privacy, and endurance. I think they could do that, and they may be in the best position to do so if they have the will and can reconcile it with a business model for themselves while sustaining interoperability with other major players.
  • WEB 2.0 whatever

    oh.. so you just arrived on the scene?

    i guess that makes you web 2.0... lol

    forget web 2.0.. it doesnt mean much.. unless your on dialup checkin out stone age websites.

    Now... INTERNET 2 is interesting.... but other than that

  • RE: Are all 'open' Web platforms created equal?

    It depends, like most things the reason each thing exist is because they find a niche in their place in the world, in this case the marketplace, so if you looking at this aspect this yes. You can't compare apples to oranges or hamburger because they each have their own taste, chemical composition, texture and many other thing that make them unique so each entice us uniquely. So does open web platforms.
  • talking about different layers in the software architecture

    I think it's a little blurry about how some of these API should be categorized. Some of these new Web 2.0 applications rest on the lower level services.

    User Interaction (Web 2.0)
    Web Applications
    Web Services
    Web Server
    • But Mike Cox's MS rep will tell you.....

      There's only four layers:

      User Interaction (Web 2.0)(pre-MS buyout)
      Windows Live APIs
      Microsoft Windows
      Hardware (MS-certified)

      What else do we really need in this Gilded Age of Groupthink?
  • Craigslist + GNU GPL v3

    Perhaps Craigslist could do this. They could make their stuff GNU GPL and open it up to all developers to make their own additions.
  • RE: Are all 'open' Web platforms created equal?

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