People who know me know that I am not a Microsoft lover. I am more on the “hater” side of that argument, but I have always felt that they do some things very well. They always targeted developers and tried to get adoption of their platform. This gave them the monopoly on the desktop operating system that they maintained for years. However, this success did not translate well to the internet. They have tried various things with a search engine, Hotmail never did very well under their stewardship and they could not get into the content production space. This is mainly because Microsoft is a platform company and they make applications and tools that support that platform.
They have been getting attacked on various fronts on the internet. GMail and Yahoo Mail are what many people use for email. Hotmail may still have a lot of accounts, but its reputation for stability and hosting spam accounts is allowing the competition to gain. Microsoft Office, another cash cow, has seen extensive competition from the online applications from Zoho Office and Google Applications. This competition could have been squashed long ago, but Microsoft has a tendency to think they know better than everyone and figured the online application was an interesting idea but not a good one. Software like Google Gears and Yahoo BrowserPlus enable web applications to store data on the user’s PC so you can still use them when disconnected. In the past few months we have seen what looks like the final straw for Microsoft, cloud computing. Amazon, Google and others have decided to make cloud computing into a utility platform. This may have finally made Microsoft wake up.
Things changes a little while ago when Microsoft launched Silverlight. Rich applications on the internet are hard to do well, but if you can create a simple platform or tool that works with your favorite web sites and it exists on the desktop, you could have a real winner. Adobe saw this when they created the AIR platform. Obviously Microsoft must have seen the same thing as Silverlight was not that far behind. But that was just the beginning.
With the Microsoft PDC behind us we saw various announcements, summarized by Robert Scoble when he said, “never underestimate Microsoft’s ability to turn a corner“. When they announced that Microsoft Office would be available in an online form, they came prepared with options and a monetization plan:
The “Office Web applications” will be available to consumers through Office Live, a service which has both ad-funded and subscription options. Business users will be offered Office Web applications as a hosted subscription service and through existing “volume licensing agreements”. There will be a private technology preview of the Office Web applications later this year.
Google and Zoho have been given notice that they must innovate or be relegated to niche status. When you play on Microsoft’s turf, they do not play nice. You can ask the many applications and platforms that have withered when Microsoft decided it wanted to win a fight.
I am going to keep an eye on Microsoft for a while. With all of their new service and application announcements, they have done something different than is their norm. Most of these announcements coincided with the actual launch of a beta. Their is no 6 month waiting period for a beta or pre-release product. Microsoft came out with their guns blazing. Steven Hodson is cautiously excited:
I might be a cranky old fart but I have been around long enough to understand how businesses can go through cycles. Some succeed and come out the other end a better and stronger company – other don’t. there is something happening within Microsoft and there is a real sense of of something big happening within its hull. I believe that Microsoft is on the road back and I think that there are going to be a really interesting future ahead for those that follow Microsoft or use their products.
I too am cautiously excited. I am not excited that Microsoft is doing well, I am excited that another big player is embracing the new hyper-connected world. The competition between the likes of Microsoft, Google and a host of others means that innovation could be coming very quickly. This could lead to a very exciting time.
One last note of caution to all of those companies who are now competing with Microsoft. Beware, someone woke the sleeping giant.