Ray Ozzie's speech at last Thursday's Microsoft Financial Analyst Meeting 2006 was a significant one - not only because it was the first major Microsoft strategy speech in years that was *not* delivered by Bill Gates. If anything marked the passing of the visionary torch from Gates to Ray Ozzie, this presentation was it. The topic of the speech was how Windows Live will serve as Microsoft's "experience hub" and be their main platform over the coming years.
Ozzie said that Microsoft is now a "platform company", rather than a software company. Google is also looking to dominate the Web platform - they just haven't spelled it out to us like Microsoft has And the Windows Live services platform will be the biggest platform - the "experience hub". Meanwhile the PC, browser and mobile devices will be "different experience-delivery mechanisms". But even though Windows Live is the hub "to bring it all together", don't underestimate the importance of the delivery mechanisms...
I read with interest Ryan Stewart's take on this. Ryan is ZDNet's resident RIA (rich internet apps) expert and he says he's "downgraded my faith level in Ray" after Ozzie's speech. Why? Because "Microsoft wants you to use their web, their desktop and their mobile devices." My take on that is: what's new? Microsoft has always wanted to control the platform. But Ryan does have a point, which he makes in a comment:
"RIAs, delivered over the web and running on a variety of platforms (mobile, Linux, XBoxes) is a model with a lot of potential."
That's certainly a great ideal, but it doesn't fit with Microsoft's core strength - which is dominating the software (and now services) platform that mainstream consumers and enterprises use. To do that, Microsoft will use their market-leading "experience-delivery mechanisms" - the IE browser, MS Office, X-box, etc. Those delivery mechanisms will do exactly that - deliver their huge user bases to Windows Live services. It's a virtuous circle (except that a lot of people would debate the 'virtuous' bit).
But to be fair, Google is also looking to dominate the Web platform - they just haven't spelled it out to us like Microsoft has. We have to piece the puzzle together with Google, but it doesn't take a rocket science to figure out that they'll leverage their search engine success and online advertising dominance to get people using their Web service platform - instead of Windows Live.