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Loosely Coupled weblog

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Microsoft and the roadkill ahead

Lurking within Microsoft's Live announcements yesterday were some intriguing mentions of APIs. Ignore for a moment all the excitement about Microsoft's plunge into ad-funded online services to challenge Google and focus instead on the implications of this paragraph from its press release:

"Continuing the company’s fundamental commitment to delivering a platform the industry can use to create solutions, Microsoft is making its new live services available to developers to customize, extend and remix. These new services build upon and extend Microsoft’s existing developer platform, tools and ecosystem. Windows Live and Office Live will work with Windows through publicly available application programming interfaces (APIs), available for use by the developer and partner community."

There's even a case study of how "a California application service provider harnessed Windows Live Local Powered by Virtual Earth, and the .NET platform, to deliver RE3W, a Web-based service ..."

In short, what Microsoft announced yesterday was its intention to launch an online services platform. Or, to borrow the headline from seasoned Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley, Microsoft 'Live': 'Hailstorm' Take 2. Mary quite rightly identifies that the only thing really new in yesterday's announcement was the positioning and packaging of a cluster of existing initiatives. And compare Microsoft's press statement about APIs above with what she quotes from the company's original descriptions of Hailstorm: "a set of user-centric XML Web services that enable developers to build solutions that work seamlessly with one another over the Internet to deliver a more personalized and consistent user experience."

Mary goes on to quote Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff, who also foresees a platform emerging: "I think they'll eventually drive to 'platformize' these services, again, similar to HailStorm but with a more coherent business model and partner model this time around."

But there's another difference with the Hailstorm era that must surely also play a role in the new Live services: Windows Communication Foundation, the web services framework formerly known as Indigo, which is a fundamental part of the forthcoming release of Windows and a raft of other key Microsoft tools and servers. If the new Live APIs conform to WCF then they will be of great interest not only to consumers and small businesses but also to enterprises.

That may be why enterprises weren't explicitly mentioned as a target for the new Live services at yesterday's event. Cannabilization of Microsoft's lucrative revenues from Office and Windows have been a concern that's always previously held back projects like Hailstorm. Now that the company's chiefs have set an avowedly software-based services course and brought both wings into the same operating division, those objections will likely be overcome. Recognition is taking hold that traditionally licensed shrinkwrap software like Windows and Office are set to be roadkill in the path of the onward march of services architectures. But it's still in the company's interest to delay the ultimate slaughter of its cash cows for as long as possible — at least until it's been able to nurture some services-style replacements.

I've written more about Microsoft's services strategy in my ZDNet blog over the past few weeks, including my analysis of last night's announcements. Here are some links:

posted by Phil Wainewright 3:08 PM (GMT) | comments | link

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