[an error occurred while processing this directive]


opinion.gif (236 bytes)Opinion - The rise and rise of Microsoft -
(January 2000)
Simon Moores examines how Microsoft has always stayed one step ahead of the competition

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, it’s useful as a link to what has become Microsoft’s ‘Stealth’ strategy in the face of recent anti-trust revelations over the company’s 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 world’s attention focused on the measures it took to block Netscape’s 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 Microsoft’s, or indeed anyone else’s, customers.

Diversion tactics

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 Internet’s next generation delivery mechanisms. Let me explain:

When one writes about the company’s strategy, it’s 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 Microsoft’s 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."

That’s clear then. At its heart, it’s 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, it’s that monopolies attract unwelcome attention and that there’s a smarter way of fencing large parts of the future off from rivals.

At first glance, Microsoft hasn’t been that successful with MSN. It’s probably not the first site that springs to mind when you think of Internet portals. The secret is that it doesn’t 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. It’s 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, it’s 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 world’s first ‘Digital Superpower’, if it can stay one step ahead of the Unites States Department of Justice.

opinion.gif (236 bytes)Simon Moores is President of the Windows NT Forum. All views expressed here are his own.