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Community Column: The Road Behind. Pragmatism.

May 04, 2001, 23:30 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by John Everitt)

By John Everitt

Originally posted at: http://www.firetrench.com/article.php?sid=85

If I were a Microsoft investor, I would be very, very worried. Why? Primarily because of Craig Mundie's speech on May 3rd 2001, which seemed like a attempted justification of Microsoft's seemingly monopolistic ways. It also seems schizophrenic, which I will elaborate upon later.

Microsoft is a company that has relied upon constant and somewhat spasmodic growth in the software to fund research. Now we are beginning to level out and reach a normalised logarithmic growth as opposed to the chaotic electronic investments, that after all were made before financiers really understood the Internet. How can Microsoft adapt to this normalised market? I believe primarily by shifting their modus operandi back a few years, to the years of flux.

How, they will achieve this is simple, a baseline shift of common standards. The Unix platform, albeit it jerkily, has strived to produce commercial standards and interoperabilty. This seems to have been hampered by commercial wrangling. Truly open standards have not been effected by this in the same way. Microsoft, like it or hate it, has not suffered from the same problems as commercial Unix because it has had reasonably static platforms for significant periods of time. Microsoft products have never really sold on interoperability.

Microsoft products have never really had any competition because they are not sold on interoperability and versions have remained in circulation for a long time. Until now. I know what you're probably thinking, "Oh, no. Another Linux tirade", but this isn't Microsoft's big problem. The big problem is how to balance expansion, increasing profit and standards. It is a chicken in the egg problem. Microsoft have out-versioned themselves. They have diversified their product base to the extent that customers no longer know which product to buy. The Microsoft description of each product varies, specifications change and features are added with each service pack. Is this innovation? Yes. Is this sensible? No. It is possible to innovate oneself out of the market and become a Jack of all trades, master of none.

A big problem is duplication. Microsoft are spending huge amounts of money research what are effectively mutations of existing standards in a malopropos way. I do not consider this innovation, I consider this a waste. If I were a Microsoft investor I would be very concerned about this trend.

User centric marketing is the oddest, and schizophrenic development. User centricity seems like a odd mixture off vampirism and fluffy bunny conditioning. In a way you want to empower the user, user friendliness, and in another way you want them to buy the next version of your product. Which seems to sum up the .NET philosophy well.

Well where does this sit when juxtaposed with the ever expanding so called open source community. The open source community has been user-centric for some time. It's just the user base hasn't been the same as Microsoft's. It could almost be described as the .NET philosophy, albeit first and without the vampirism. The open source community does not want your money. Unless there is a service it can provide. Microsoft wants to sell you software and sell you services. The open source community really wants neither, but the profit exists in services and packaging.

Which version do you want today? This is one of my current worries and one of Microsoft's foibles. Upon which version should we train our staff? The open source community doesn't have this problem. You specify something, you create something and then you train. With Microsoft software they specify something, they create something and then you train. This is not the best fit and most companies end up using multiply licensed proprietary software to plaster over the cracks in the software. This is not often factored into the cost ratio.

Microsoft wishes to create stability, but equally wants to create innovation. Innovation is something that you can pick and choose. Not so in Microsoft's profit model. Microsoft is beginning to look very risky. It is a company that has relied on constant growth. The release frequency of products appears to be increasing which to me suggests a lack of growth and a scratchy attempt at creating new markets.

It seems that .NET exists: it is the Internet. Microsoft wants to sell it back to you.

To me this doesn't seem like too bigger an ideological battle, rather more of a common sense versus waste argument. Be pragmatic on your next upgrade and remember the frequently quoted Chuck D, "Don't, Don't, DD-Don't believe the Hype!".