Man, Microsoft does not like to be left out of the party. In classic fashion, they have re-jigged, re-orged, and come back at the Web 2.0 story with what appears to be a vengeance.
A lot of stuff was announced yesterday. Some of it was hype, but you can’t ignore the story. Some points:
- Most of the announcements are really just rebrandings of current products. Hotmail is going to become Live Mail. MSN Messenger becomes Live IM. Start.com transforms into Live.com. And the list goes on. Google is riding some incredible brand buzz right now and much of it is just hype. This is a healthy refresh for Microsoft because it sort of reintroduces a lot of what is already there.
- What do we really want out of the Web? I think the whole AJAX trend feels nice right now, but it’s staying power is going to be tested. The browser is going to feel claustrophobic once Microsoft gets done with us. The real sweet spot is data everywhere (especially persoanlized data) and rich, dynamic applications to control them. Who cares that the interface came in over the wire or not?
- Don’t be fooled into thinking this is the end of Office. Office is, at it’s core, a business platform. Large enterprises are not interested in having their intelligence hosted elsewhere. Microsoft is betting that hosted, rich applications are a niche market. I think they’re right.
- Microsoft is one of the few companies in the world that can earmark money just to wear you down. It is amazing to see how many initiatives are planned:
- Microsoft Sparkle (competitor to Flash)
- Microsoft Gadgets
- XAML (XML-based markup for Windows Vista)
- Microsoft Live
Will they all succeed? Most likely not. Many past Microsoft efforts fall through the cracks. Nevertheless, the damage they leave behind is often significant.
- Microsoft knows that a key to their success is to draw users away from the browser and back to the desktop. We’re going to see many traditionally desktop elements “lit up” with data coming over the wire. In my opinion, this is the real killer. It can drastically improve a user’s experience (i.e. “I don’t have to go over there to get a piece of information.”) and at the same time diluting the value of the Web Destination. Over time, this will render traditional web destinations less relevant. If search becomes a desktop widget, where will Google (or anyone else for that matter) put their ads? “Why do I have to go to Google.com to search? I’d rather just do it here, in my application.”
In the end, as others have pointed out, this is healthy. It’s good for consumers and competition can usually breed some useful, innovative things (usually). Let’s just hope that as Microsoft heads this way, they don’t lose sight of why all this stuff happened in the first place: an open community where others were allowed to play.