Thursday, October 23, 2008

Why Microsoft is Losing Relevance in the New Computing World

Disclaimer:
I started writing a Domino-related post today but after a good opening paragraph, it tipped into Microsoft territory and got too long. As a result, I decided to cover the Microsoft stuff here and keep the Domino post for later. I've tried to keep this blog relatively non-political (computer politics) but sometimes it just doesn't work. Please forgive me if this comes over as a bit of a rant. If you're a big Microsoft supporter, it's possibly better if you don't read this one.


For quite a while now, a lot of systems migrations have been driven by the adage "Nobody ever gets sacked for buying Microsoft". I've always considered this to be a cowardly practice in the IT world driven by the fact that many mid to high level managers really aren't able to make technology decisions by themselves - and yet, they're often afraid to ask their own people for advice.

Once, it may even have made business sense of a sort but the computing landscape has changed drastically over the last few years and Google, Apple and IBM have all emerged as leaders, leaving Microsoft behind.

The Higher they Climb the Harder they Fall
It's hard to discern the exact reasons why Microsoft lost the crown.

Certainly the reduced role and eventual retirement of Bill Gates played a key role. Bill was one of the founding fathers of modern computing and a man of vision - something his successors seem to lack.

Perhaps Microsoft's attempts to monopolise the computing world, not just the desktop, turned a lot of their business partners into bitter rivals. Certainly it was this that gave the open source community its greatest leaders. The fact that Microsoft ignored standards, like J2EE in favour of their propriety .NET standard didn't help either.

Personally, I think it was a combination of these factors plus a complete lack of readiness for Service Orientated Architecture and the "sharing" of applications that comes with it that put the giant in the position it now occupies.

In the early nineties, Microsoft capitalised on its rivals unreadiness for the Windows environment, bringing out its Office suite with unprecedented (then) integration between it's components and knocking out the reigning DOS champions; Wordperfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase IV.

The Upgrade Cycle
Since that time Microsoft has controlled the desktop completely, foisting interface changes onto it's users without any consideration of business value or retraining requirements. In many cases, those changes seemed only to be an excuse to get a new version of software onto the market. They offered little additional functionality and even less actual business incentive - other than the fact that older software often had issues working on newer versions of Windows.

This strategy enabled Microsoft to establish an "upgrade cycle", a guaranteed source of revenue. Their half-hearted attempts on non-windows platforms could be seen as nothing more than a means of wooing users to Windows while their .NET strategy which has some "platform independent" web components, still needs Windows servers to deploy.

Service Orientated Architecture SOA
All that changed with service orientated architecture because suddenly the very things Microsoft has always fought have become central to the system. It doesn't matter what the underlying system is, so long as it is capable of providing the service and the data.

It also doesn't matter what the core runs on, provided that it's web-enabled and capable of having the services embedded into it. In that sense, there is very little distinction between IBM WebSphere, iGoogle and Facebook - they're all containers for services - albeit designed for drastically different purposes.

So where is Microsoft in all this? It's hard to say;

Head on over to the Microsoft SOA page (http://www.microsoft.com/SOA/) and see if you can work out exactly what their portal software is. It's not very clear to me - that's for sure.

One last thing to remember about SOA. It relies on plugins and co-operation between vendors. If you have too much bad blood between vendors the relationship won't be effective. I bet Microsoft is wishing they hadn't alienated quite so many business partners back when they were top dog.

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