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Yes, server=service. Now walk the talk.

Microsoft's services are weak, under-invested offerings that have to somehow bridge the enormous gap to its installed base of over-engineered servers.

Last week, I wrote about how Microsoft plans (too slowly) to re-architect its business software "along shared-services principles." This week, Bill Gates has come up with a much snappier phrase to describe this process: "server-equals-service". In an extended interview with our colleagues at CNET (also blogged today by Dan Farber), he explains that Microsoft wants to move to an architecture that allows customers to freely choose between licensing software to run on-premise or accessing it as a hosted service: "... so that we will have the full Exchange capability that you can subscribe to, where we run it, or you can have it on-premise with the traditional licensing approach ... the evolution is server to service, and bringing that symmetry in."

The catch, as I explained in my earlier posting and in several others over the past few weeks, is that re-architecting software so that it runs interchangeably as either a server or a service is a tall order.

All credit to Bill for acknowledging that this is the direction Microsoft must move in:

"The idea that the computing industry can simplify its offerings dramatically by having this server-equals-service approach, and having richer services, absolutely I believe in that, and we need to be at the forefront of that."

But Bill's a bright guy, and he knows how far short Microsoft's current offerings fall of that objective. Just read the list of examples he cites to illustrate Microsoft's current position, and measure how far apart the server and services implementations are today:

"We have Active Directory, which we are making a lot richer. There's a lot of talk about that here. And we have Passport. So we're making those very symmetric and having this federation capability be central to the architecture those things follow. We have e-mail where we have Hotmail and Exchange. We'll have hosted Exchange from some of the telcos, too. In terms of Web sites, we have some people doing hosted SharePoint now, we have Spaces, which is a low-end version of that. We'll bring those together."

Now hear all that enormous brainpower shift into action and instantly acknowledge how far apart all these offerings currently stand:

"So our services have started out as very inexpensive but not feature-rich. Our servers are very feature rich. So as we bring these things together, we give you the richness and also the choice of having it as server or as a service. And that is a very big deal to us. The place we are strongest in this today is in instant messenger, where the MSN Messenger is the service, and Live Communications Server is the server. So those things are very symmetrical."

The only example of symmetry that springs (even to Bill's) mind is a strong service mirrored by a weak server. All the rest of them are weak, under-invested services that have to somehow bridge the enormous gap to Microsoft's installed base of over-engineered servers. At least Microsoft's Chief Architect realizes the extent of the challenge the company's developers face. Now all he has to do is get them to walk his talk ...