Microsoft in Reality — a look at the latest memos from Gates and Ozzie

by Doc Searls

Big things happen at Microsoft — and in the marketplace — after Bill Gates announces a grand strategy. Ten years ago this coming Pearl Harbor Day, Chairman Bill famously made a speech challenging his company and his opponents to take advantage of the "Internet Tidal Wave" that was the subject of an equally famous memo the prior May.

Now Bill has issued another sure-to-be-famous , along with one by Ray Ozzie, Microsoft's new CTO.

(Both kindly reproduced, without editorial annotation, by Dave Winer.)

The first time around, the headlines cast Microsoft's challenge in strictly competitive terms. The great "threats" to Microsoft back then were Netscape and its browser. This time around, it's clear that The Net is The Environment, and that what matters in that environment are services. Here's Bill:

We must reflect upon what and for whom we are building, how best to deliver new functionality given the internet services model, what kind of a platform in this new context might enable partners to build great profitable businesses, and how our applications might be reshaped to create service-enabled experiences uniquely compelling to both users and businesses alike.

The italics are mine. That phrase — internet services model — stuck out for me, because I had heard it first from Craig Burton back in February 2001:

I have developed a model for measuring the progress of the computing industry from an “Internet Services” perspective. This perspective is the Internet Services Model (ISM). This model is not limited to a “services technology” conversation, but also includes a lexicon to discuss the model....

Before getting too much into the vision of the Internet Operating System, it is useful to cover the “nature” of the infrastructure business. The infrastructure business is an enigma. This is because it is built around an interesting paradox. I refer to this as "The Infrastructure Paradox."

Vendors of infrastructure have two prime objectives:

  • Generate shareholder value.
  • Foster infrastructure ubiquity.

Each of these prime objectives is in direct opposition to each other. The extreme of generating shareholder value would sacrifice infrastructure ubiquity. The extreme of fostering infrastructure ubiquity would sacrifice shareholder value. Without getting too "Zen" in the matter, the trick of success is to constantly balance the two prime objectives.

It is completely possible to at once generate shareholder value and to foster infrastructure ubiquity. (More on this later.) In the current state, the industry is out of balance with these objectives. This is because the key to balancing the objectives is innovation. There is currently a major infrastructure growth deterrent keeping the entire industry out of balance, or in darkness; a state of Web Noir.

His Web Noir piece is damn interesting too, considering the fact that it was written nearly five years ago.

It should be clear by now that the Net's infrastructure — what Craig calls the Internet Operating System — is NEA: something Nobody Owns, Everybody can use and Anybody can improve. Its end-to-end architecture is one Craig compares to a hollow sphere: a world of ends wrapped around a three-dimensional zero.

But that doesn't stop Microsoft, or anybody, from wanting to own it. It does, however, stop them from actually owning the Net's infrastructure itself, which is too deep and too free (as in both beer and speech). Craig's outline of the Internet Services Model shows the playing field in a layered diagram that distinguishes between network and application services.

Money will be made at the latter, far more than the former.

The question becomes, "Where's the silo?"

Now that everything is being built by everybody with fewer and fewer dependencies on any one vendor as a sole source of technology, it will be harder and harder to build silos for people and companies that are losing their willingness to live in them.

Which is why I see this whole thing as an adjustment of Microsoft to reality, rather than a call by Microsoft for the reverse.

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