The bigger picture
I vaguely remember a record from the
early eighties, by The Jam, entitled Going Underground. Other
than revealing my age and an embarrassing history of beards and flared trousers, its
useful as a link to what has become Microsofts Stealth strategy in the
face of recent anti-trust revelations over the companys conduct towards its
partners, rivals and customers.
In what must be one of the most expensive and brilliant examples of commercial
misdirection in history, Microsoft has the worlds attention focused on the measures
it took to block Netscapes chances of dominating the browser market. Examined in
Web-years, this is interesting but ancient history. Important for the framing of future
anti-trust legislation but broadly irrelevant to the interests of the greater part of
Microsofts, or indeed anyone elses, customers.
Where Microsoft has been so clever has been in developing what looks very much like a
two-pronged strategy; where one part is very public and surrounds its plans for Windows
2000 and the second part involves what can only be described as strategic investment. It
looks to me like an effort to ring-fence the Internets next generation delivery
mechanisms. Let me explain:
When one writes about the companys strategy, its almost inevitable that the
technology of Windows 2000 occupies most of the space. After all, the vision is an
ambitious one and stretches what was once a Departmental Server OS into the realms of
component Internet Megaservices, glued together with Windows DNA 2000. Just to remind you,
DNA 2000 is Microsofts solution in terms of an integrated suite of products that
conforms to an overall vision and architecture. In principal, a Windows DNA application is
a three-tiered Web application. So, to quote Microsoft: "Windows DNA 2000 addresses
every client computing paradigm, ranging from the standard thin client, where you can
access the application from any browser, running on any platform, all the way to a
different paradigm that might involve a Palm Pilot or a mobile wireless device."
Thats clear then. At its heart, its an advanced expression for plumbing and
describes how Microsoft plans to connect an entire household of new server-side products,
components and solutions to the digital mains represented by the Internet.
The bigger picture
The greater strategy for Windows 2000 appears to have gone through a subtle review over
the last twelve months. Where not so long ago, co-existence was a dirty word in the
Microsoft vocabulary, today, Windows NT and BackOffice products are much more likely to
find themselves in competition with rival technologies and solutions than ever before.
Consequently, Microsoft is using the advantage of tight product and feature integration
over the Windows NT platform as a weapon to wield against newcomers such as Linux and more
established rivals such as Solaris. Where then does the underground strategy come in to
the picture? Microsoft has learned some very hard lessons from recent court cases. In
particular, its that monopolies attract unwelcome attention and that theres a
smarter way of fencing large parts of the future off from rivals.
At first glance, Microsoft hasnt been that successful with MSN. Its probably
not the first site that springs to mind when you think of Internet portals. The secret is
that it doesnt have to reach out and grab you as number one. You see, Microsoft is
using its $20 billion mountain of cash to invest in partnerships with a broad range of
business and in particular, telecommunications companies rolling out a new generation of
fibre-optic and broad-band solutions. Its these that will facilitate the really big
Internet revolution in our lives. The one that will arrive in the next five years and
embrace the entire population. Many of these partnerships and investments appear to
involve the positioning of Microsoft technologies, such as Windows CE, its e-business
sites, the MSN portal and much more.
Most of us have, at one time or another, played monopoly but imagine opening the box and
finding that all the best real estate has been built-upon before the first dice have been
thrown. While other companies have been reading the instructions, Microsoft has been
thinking outside the box and in this analogy, invested $100 million in the
company that printed the street design on the board.
There is of course, nothing wrong with this strategy, its extremely clever and
entirely legal but does rather conjure-up characters and plots from a string of James Bond
movies. You see, at the current rate of partnering and investment, the success of Windows
2000 and DNA becomes at best, a detail in a much larger global strategy. People make the
mistake of thinking of Microsoft as a software company. Ten years ago, this may have been
true but in the 21st century it looks set to become the worlds first
Digital Superpower, if it can stay one step ahead of the Unites States
Department of Justice.
Simon Moores is
President of the Windows NT Forum. All views expressed here are his own.