Protect What's Yours
Is Microsoft helping HTML5 and the Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (LAMP) stack harm its own products and market position? Historically, Microsoft has struck a delicate balance in melding homegrown and external technologies into a cohesive stack and a winning strategy. But recently, Redmond's lost its balance and, surprisingly, the see-saw has tipped in its competitors' favor.
In previous columns, I've discussed the Microsoft track record in adopting outside tech. I've also covered the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) and the way its membership has pushed HTML5 into the realm of a true application platform. I've covered Redmond's courtship of HTML5, its flirtation with PHP developers, and the implied critique of its Windows and Microsoft .NET Framework properties in doing so.
It's dangerous territory, but Microsoft has to cover it. HTML5, PHP and the LAMP stack are major factors in the industry -- and pretending otherwise would be foolish. But capitulating to them would be foolish, too. Is that what Microsoft is doing? It sure looks that way.
Resistance Is Futile
The recent release of the Internet Explorer 9 beta -- and Redmond's accompanying embrace of portions of HTML5 -- has cast some doubt over the future of Silverlight. Even worse: A post (found at http://tinyurl.com/2co9ful) on the Silverlight Team Blog by Microsoft Director of Product Management Brad Becker struck many as qualified and ambiguous, causing increasing doubt about the role of Silverlight.
There's more: Microsoft announced in September that it was killing its blogging service, Windows Live Spaces, and would provide a migration path for blogs on the Live Spaces platform to WordPress.com. WordPress is written in PHP, and typically it uses MySQL as its database. While the WordPress application can run beautifully on Windows and IIS, the WordPress.com service (owned by Automattic) hosts the app on the full LAMP stack.
Taken in isolation, each of these decisions makes sense. In the case of Internet Explorer 9, Microsoft knows that its browser must provide a meaningful HTML5 implementation or risk losing market share and relevance. And the Windows Live team, in deciding to shutter Live Spaces, knew they needed to provide customers with a migration path to a blogging platform that scales. WordPress.com is the king, it's not owned by Google and there are no large-scale ASP.NET blogging platforms (other than Live Spaces) anyway.
Individually these moves make sense; in fact, they seem unavoidable. But they also seem like surrender, and they don't square with the positions Microsoft previously took on open source and Silverlight.
It Didn't Have to Be Like This
Microsoft could've avoided this conundrum and the partner confidence hit it's caused. For example, when Redmond announced the switch to WordPress.com, it could have worked things out with Automattic for those blogs to be hosted on Windows Azure and SQL Azure, rather than Linux and MySQL boxes in conventional datacenters. The Internet Explorer 9 beta 1 release could've been accompanied by a new version of Silverlight that contrasted well with HTML5 and presented new Silverlight media deals.
Yes, Silverlight 4 was just released in April, but maybe it should've been held. I know the media deals are hard to come by; maybe that should've been more of a focus. Automattic might not have done the Live Spaces deal if it had to change infrastructure strategy, but perhaps Microsoft should've supported Live Spaces until such a deal could be cut.
Microsoft is rich and it can afford to make mistakes -- but only for a while. The Windows/Office cash cow is an endowment that finances other innovations, services and opportunities. It's not supposed to be a dwindling pension plan, and we're not supposed to spend into the principal. Nor are we supposed to raise white flags. Microsoft never has.
I know I'm backseat driving. But I'm a Microsoft partner and the backseat is where I sit. If the person driving endangers us both, then I owe it to us both to speak up. That's what friends do. At times, that's what this column is all about. Microsoft is a great company with technologies I love. Microsoft needs to protect those technologies, and partners need to say so.
Andrew Brust is Research Director for Big Data and Analytics at Gigaom Research. Andrew is co-author of "Programming Microsoft SQL Server 2012" (Microsoft Press); an advisor to NYTECH, the New York Technology Council; co-moderator of Big On Data - New York's Data Intelligence Meetup; serves as Microsoft Regional Director and MVP; and is conference co-chair of Visual Studio Live!