Feb

9th

Microsoft Software Mastering the Web?

Software | Website Development


Summary: As a prominent professional developer of custom software, database products, and provider of I T consulting services and web products and services in the NY NJ metropolitan area, we have been keen and interested observers of Microsoft’s performance and products that they have developed over the past 20 years.  In our opinion, Microsoft is losing the battle for market share of the software that is the lingua franca of the Internet.  In our opinion, this results from their design of products they make to produce reliance on other Microsoft products.  We believe that this feature is a result of Microsoft corporate culture, and not of any altruistic motive on their part.  The Internet, in contrast, is steadfastly committed to open standards to accommodate a vast variety of approches to community.  Neither of these attitudes seems like to change.  In our opinion, this disconnect will continue to work to the detriment of Microsoft.

I read an article about 10 days ago which was critical of Microsoft’s efforts to gain a toehold on the web that got me to thinking.  The premise of the article was that Microsoft has thrown huge sums of money into developing a web presence, but has so far failed.  Kevin Kelleher, the article’s author advances an argument that Microsoft should throw in the towel, and get out of the web business, because Microsoft obviously doesn’t do ‘it’ well.

My own vantage is one of an early and ardent admirer of Microsoft.  My Company, Paladin Consultants, LLC ,was one of the original Solution Providers (later renamed Microsoft Partners Network).  Over the past 20 years, we have  designed hundreds of custom software projects for many big name clients using Microsoft Sql Server database, Visual Basic,  .Net Projects in C#, and extensive application development using the Microsoft Office Products (including programmed routines in Word, Excel, and full blown small database system in Microsoft Access).  A few of the larger projects are detailed on our website.

Gates & Co. has changed the world through their innovations, and they are deserving of every nickle they have made.  Microsoft’s software products set a standard for quality, ease of use, and innovation that the rest of the industry used as a standard.  And for years we have been a strong supporter of Microsoft products.

But something happened in the mid ‘90’s – a number of things, actually, that changed the character of Microsoft, and of the playing field.

First, Microsoft seems to have lost its spirit of innovation.  Their execllent ideas like Windows, Visual Basic, SQL Server, and Office have only been marginally improved since the mid ‘90’s.  Their PR machine would, perhaps vehemently disagree with that assertion, but, aside from the cosmetics, and being easier to connect with those programs, the functionality has been little changed for the good of the user.  Their foray into the browser market is a case in point.  They built Internet Explorer into their Windows software to preclude competition from other browser manufacturers like Netscape.  They were sued by the U.S. Justice department  and by the E.U for anti competitive practices.  The corporate culture for some reason elected to compete in the market with anti-competitive practices, rather than innovation.  The Netscape browser was, unfortunately a casualty.

Second, the terrain of the battle shifted dramatically.  Although Bill Gates paid lip service to the concept that ‘ the future of the information business is the internet’, in practice his actions showed that he didn’t get it.  For instance, take a look at this snippet of text taken from a word document:

Wordtext

In an effort to make IE and Word indispensible, Microsoft allowed Word users to save their documents as HTML files.  The only problem was that in order for those files to render properly, the user was required to use IE.   Here’s a snippet of the HTML generated by Word.  Notice how the tags are largely proprietary, and not able to be interpreted by other browsers:

Wordtexthtml

The larger thought is that the very gestalt of Internet is to have as open a system as possible.  The internet is home to many different operating systems, and APIs.  The nature of the beast is that all participants must be able to share those resources freely.  Microsoft’s view of the world, however, is that they want everybody to use their products, and will do anything they can to ‘tie’ as many people as possible to their paradigm.  In a real sense, thse two competing philosophies and business models are incompatible.  Another example of this is the Microsoft .Net platform.  We develop on .Net for clients, but invariably, there are open products that are available that do just as good a job, if not better, faster, cheaper, and easier to maintain.  The same can be said when comparing Windows Internet servers with Apache Linux servers.

So, when it comes to Internet products developed by Microsoft, by the time the product comes to market, there are already superior products available from their competitors.  VBScript vs Javascript, MSN vs Yahoo, Bing Vs Google, IE vs Firefox, Frontpage vs Dreamweaver and the list goes on.

Third, Microsoft has an extremely poor record of loyalty to its ‘partners’.  They have shown this again and again that when it becomes advantageous for MS to desert their partners, they will do so in a heartbeat.  The loyal army of Solution Providers were presented with a more and more expensive and onerous set of hoops to jump through that it became not a good business proposition for most of them.  In the beginning, Microsoft was a good source of referrals for many of us.  It was advantageous for them to establish themselves as the default platform.  But after a few years, those referrals invariably went to the ‘partners’ who sold the most Microsoft desktop products.  So, like their own internal innovation, relations with their ‘partners’ also fell prey to the drive to stoke consistent quarterly earnings growth.  Their relationship with RealPlayer is another example of this kind of ‘partner’ dissolution.  RealNetworks ended up suing Microsoft and winning $3/4 billion, in addition to the $600 million fine levied against Microsoft by the E.U. related to the RealNetworks suit.

I am concerned that as the desktop market matures along with the growth of Internet and cloud computing that Microsoft will continue to suffer reversals.  Of course, it is possible that the company will experience a resurgence in its innovation, but at this point it is difficult to see the theater that will make this likely.  Contrast this to the buzz that frequently comes from the new product machine at Apple. Growth in Internet based computing shows no signs whatever of slowing down.



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One Response to “Microsoft Software Mastering the Web?”

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