Let the great Microsoft mash-up begin

Let the great Microsoft mash-up begin

Summary: Today's announcement of Microsoft's "live era" is a holding operation. Announcing an offering that doesn't exist yet is a ploy to buy time while the vendor brings it into being.

TOPICS: Microsoft

Today's announcement of Microsoft's "live era" is a holding operation. It's just like in 1995, when Bill Gates ripped up Microsoft's intended Internet strategy and had it rewritten with barely minutes to spare before the scheduled launch of what became known as 'embrace and extend.'

Now in 2005, Gates and his lieutenants, recognizing the need to pull something out of a hat, have had a quick look around and hurriedly cobbled together whatever they could find to at least give the appearance that Microsoft has something to offer in the on-demand arena. They know that Microsoft has to look as though it has a credible strategy, otherwise investors and employees will start wondering whether they should move their allegiance elsewhere (those that haven't already). This is a classic ploy in the software industry — Oracle infamously used it to great effect in the early 80s when it announced its SQL database product many months before it actually existed. Announcing an offering that doesn't exist yet buys valuable time while the vendor brings it into being. And just like in 1995, what finally emerges will be substantially different from what Bill Gates and Ray Ozzie have described in today's opening gambit:

  • First of all, we have Windows Live, a laundry list of on-demand services represented at today's launch by a warmed-over rehash of start.com, a pared-down, Web 2.0-style portal template that's been in a somewhat pointless beta for several months already. Now at least it has a point, but few of the promised services actually exist, and most of those that do are already accessible via MSN, so we're not talking many man-hours of development to run that up.
  • Then there's Office Live, which will be available as an invitation-only beta restricted to US resident users sometime in 2006, so there's plenty of time still left to get that coded and tested. At first glance, though, it seems to have a lot in common with the existing Small Business Center (formerly called bCentral), whose track record is such that a more accurate name (and appropriate, given the season) would be 'Office — Back From The Dead.'

Meanwhile, the only successful 'live' offering that Microsoft has actually got fully operational and in production is Microsoft Office Live Meeting, which it acquired when it bought online conferencing provider Placeware in 2003. Expect a whole lot more acquisitions as Microsoft seeks to flesh out its new-found ambitions in the on-demand world. Given its preference for vendors that use .NET rather than Java as an on-demand platform (such as Placeware and indeed more recently Ray Ozzie's Groove Networks), the field of potential candidates is relatively narrow and excludes sector leaders such as salesforce.com and RightNow. Maybe Microsoft will buy up every one of them.

One thing I don't believe is that Microsoft seriously thinks all of this can be funded by advertising. In my view, the praise we've heard of Google's business model today from Microsoft is deliberate flattery-to-deceive. Microsoft knows there isn't enough advertising revenue in the world to sustain its ambitions. Its on-demand business model is going to involve a lot more subscription fees than Google's.

Most intriguing of all, though, is the mention of open APIs for the Live platforms. Perhaps I misheard this. Can Microsoft be seriously suggesting that partners and customers will be able to connect to these services from any platform, and mash them up however they like (subject to paying the required subscription fees or accepting the obligatory advertising, whichever applies)? I'm not sure that Microsoft really does have the nerve to carry this through, but it should: its consummate expertise at fostering developer ecosystems could really light a fire under its on-demand platform if it gets the API offering right. That would make today's announcement one of those landmark dawn-of-a-new-era moments: the day the great Microsoft mash-up began.

Topic: Microsoft

Phil Wainewright

About Phil Wainewright

Since 1998, Phil Wainewright has been a thought leader in cloud computing as a blogger, analyst and consultant.

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  • Refreshing

    ...to hear a journalist in these parts actually provide some objective critique of the MS behemoth, as opposed to slobbering fanatic support of Holy Bill and the Other Windows Saints. Hear, hear. I agree, if an API solution was launched that could provide MS solutions on practically any platform, it would represent not only a potential for reasonable profits, but also a major departure from MS's traditional proprietary stance... I don't really see it happening, to tell the truth.
  • Office Live: ill-concieved combination of FUD, Vaporware

    It is clear this was FUD based on a first look at the live website. There are On-Demand solutions currently such as http://www.projity.com with Project-ON-Demand. This is a complete On-Demand replacement for Microsoft Project. "Manage Projects NOT Software". It appears the announcement is an attempt to stem the tide of On-Demand adoption. However, if you read into the offering they still 'expect' you to have Office installed as noted in the WSJ "Microsoft executives emphasized that the new services are not replacements to the company's existing Windows and Office products, but rather additions. Office Live, instance assumes customers have Office applications installed on their PC's"

    In my opinion: the Microsoft stack is already too complex and costly. It is difficult to call it 'Productivity Software' anymore..... The goal of Projity and the other On-Demand vendors is to add value by streamlining software delivery. Microsoft is 'adding' not reducing the burden.
  • Lost in this is Google started the ball rolling

    All the zdnet articles make it sound like Microsoft started the talking about web offices and so on, but I distinctly remember google talking about this first.

    Microsoft's product might be very good. they'll have a lot of competition in this though, so it isn't going to be a one horse race!
    • Easy...

      ...to forget all about XMLHTTP and OWA. At that time, Google was soley a search engine among many. None of this is that new at MS. Google just a lit a fire to force them actually move on it.
      IT Scion
  • Microsoft and Google

    The difference between Microsoft and Google is that Microsoft announces vaporware and Google delivers realware.
    Microsoft is selling FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) in the old IBM manner; trying to keep its customers from jumping the sinking ship.
    Go Google! Go OpenOffice
    • Exactly so

      <Microsoft is selling FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt) in the old
      IBM manner>
      Yes, indeed, and they are counting on their new take on the old
      saw, "nobody ever got fired for buying IBM" as opposed to a
      newer, smaller company. Of course, corporate IT execs (and
      CFOs) have to be concerned about investing in any system if
      there is doubt the supplier will be around to maintain or
      upgrade the system--and they used to expect IBM to always be
      there, just as they might now expect Microsoft to persist.

      However, I think the huge cost in productivity lost to Microsoft
      problems, like security, is being acknowledged by a growing
      number of corporations--who also fear being sucked into an MS
      system that makes them pay for every new version, installed or
      not, or--eventually--every keystroke! These people are wisely
      considering their needs, and their stockholder's interests, and
      now want a suitable alternative to MS in whatever product or
      service category. This is going to be fun to watch!
  • No Products? Outlook Web Access / New Hotmail

    Y'all in your monumemental Linux / Open Source / Google-worshiping mental silo do not seem to know that Microsoft already indeed has a very nice AJAX product called Outlook Web Access. It was released with Exchange Server 2003 in 2002.

    It is a clone of the Outlook application (the one in Microsoft Office; no, not Outlook Express that ships with Windows) that works with Exchange Server to give access to email, shared contacts, public folders, private folders, etc. over any Internet connection, as if you were on the local network with the server. I undertsand that something similar will be released for Hotmail in the near future.

    It is scalable (can be simplified for slow connections) but the premium version in IE looks very similar to the desktop application. This basic version even works with mozilla, and with new frameworks I'm sure it could be extended, although perhaps that will not happen, as Microsoft rightfully favors its own products.

    So is it FUD? No. Is it vaporware? No. Can Microsoft extend other applications the same way? I'm sure they can and will.