Silverlight as the driver for Microsoft's services

Silverlight as the driver for Microsoft's services

Summary: Much has been made of the fact that Ray Ozzie's big vision revolves around services. Today we're getting some screenshots of the Office Live Workplace.

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Much has been made of the fact that Ray Ozzie's big vision revolves around services. Today we're getting some screenshots of the Office Live Workplace. The question is whether they will be cross-platform and how Microsoft can compete in a fairly crowded space. It's been interesting to watch Microsoft move into services and bring their huge brand to bear on a young, interesting space.

While Microsoft is enabling their developer population they are also creating a platform that they themselves can build on.Because I work for Adobe I'm always a little wary of hypothesizing about the competition so I want to make it clear that I think this is a good thing, both for Microsoft and rich internet applications in general. I'm also not naive enough to think that Microsoft will give up the dual cash cows of Windows and Office. But the fact that Microsoft is 1) building out on the Mac and 2) helping with the Linux port of a platform that will include the Common Language Runtime, .NET support and rich video experiences that all used to be reasons to adopt the Windows platform is telling. The skeptical out there would look at Internet Explorer's Mac support or Windows Media's support and call shenanigans, but I don't think that's the case.

Microsoft has created a very powerful and compelling platform for the many .NET developers out there today. When Silverlight 1.1 is released it will mean that you can write cross platform C# code and tie it to a very rich experience with XAML. But while Microsoft is enabling their developer population they are also creating a platform that they themselves can build on. Trying to build a services business that only runs on Windows machines is good for revenue in the short term but won't let them compete with other companies who aren't tied to an operating system as a platform. Sliverlight breaks those chains for Microsoft and gives them an opening to deploy a robust services stack on a cross-platform runtime.

Think about the brand power and development savvy that Microsoft controls. Imagine a world where an RIA version of Office runs on top of Silverlight for Windows, Mac and PC users with your data being stored on Microsoft's servers. The reputation that Microsoft has in the business and enterprise world gives them a huge head start in rolling out RIAs that can infiltrate those verticals. I don't think anyone has done a good job of selling the RIA mantra to the business application world. We're making inroads, but there aren't a lot of great examples of business-class rich internet applications that have gotten traction. Microsoft can close that loop better than most while giving flexibility in an increasingly OS-agnostic world.

10 years ago this would have been inconceivable. Windows was always the driver, always the center of attention. Silverlight is a significant departure from that thinking and I don't believe the timing of it's rise and Ray Ozzie's increasing responsibilities are a coincidence. Ray understands the new market and I'm pretty sure he sees Silverlight as a viable platform to make his dreams reality. There are still values of Windows to be sure. Windows Presentation Foundation, Visual Studio and Microsoft's other development/design tools are all Windows only which will continue to drive revenue. But the new class of applications based around services, things like Live Writer, Live Messenger, Live Mail, and lightweight versions of Office could all run in the browser and compete very well against Google's offerings. The richness of Silverlight gives Microsoft a competitive edge and I hope will help prove that customers want usable richness in their software.

People seem to agree that there is some potential in this whole RIA thing but there is still a lot to prove about the value of experience. As more companies roll out great services that can leverage an RIA front end the closer we'll be to critical mass. Then the floodgates can open.

Topics: Software, Microsoft, Operating Systems, Software Development, Windows

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6 comments
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  • History repeats itself?

    I look back at so many technologies that were not "innovated" by Microsoft but failed to gain traction in business until Microsoft put thier weight behind it. I have to say I see the same thing happening again in the RIA space. Say what you will about Microsoft but the truth is, business doesn't jump in until they see Micrsoft do so.
    No_Ax_to_Grind
    • Hmmm. Perhaps.

      I don't know if RIA will become mainstream anytime soon. Hard to say. A certain trust and dependability factor needs to develop first.

      I'm still trying figure out what Microsoft will do to establish a monopoly when it comes to RIA. I can't imagine they will want to compete with anyone on a serious level. That could make office applications a commodity. I have to guess they will begin with their proprietary file formats. Should be interesting (if the business ever actually takes off).

      [i]I have to say I see the same thing happening again in the RIA space. Say what you will about Microsoft but the truth is, business doesn't jump in until they see Micrsoft do so.[/i]
      shawkins
    • RE: History repeats itself?

      I think Microsoft in the RIA space is great for the reasons you gave. And I hope it gets more people to look at RIAs. Their technology isn't up to snuff yet, but if they keep throwing weight behind it, it will get closer. They've got a lot of developers in the wings.
      ryanstewart
    • Repeats as in disruptive technologies? But then RIA isn't one of those? -NT

      NT
      raycote
  • I seriously doubt ???

    ??? MS has any plans to implement Office on Silverlight. MS is considering providing free, low end Office software through a downloadable version of MS Works. Also MS seems very much committed to Windows. MS may now be spreading light versions of its platform technologies about the web in the form of Silverlight, but this will only help MS to sell more of its server and development software. I think if MS is shrewd, it can use Silverlight to draw people into using the Windows client, by encouraging companies to create light, web applications in Silverlight, along with desktop versions that offer increased functionality.
    P. Douglas
    • RE: I seriously doubt ???

      I agree, I really don't think Silverlight version of anything will replace Office any time soon. I think if they can give a good experience with the lightweight tools it will make the transition to the more expensive tools much easier. I think Silverlight could be a cool way to reduce friction to upgrade.
      ryanstewart