Coté’s Excellent Description of the Microsoft Web Rift
Posted by Bob Warfield on January 2, 2008
Coté’s latest RedMonk post perfectly captures my reservations about Microsoft, which I refer to as their “rift with the web”. Here are the relevant passages:
Microsoft frameworks are plagued by lock-in fears. That is, you’re either a 100% Microsoft coder or a 0% Microsoft coder. Sure, that’s an exaggeration, but the more nuanced consequences are that something intriguing like Astoria will play best with Microsoft coders, unlike Amazon’s web services which will play well with any coder.
This thing he calles “lock-in fear” and the extreme polarization (encouraged by Microsoft’s rhetoric, tactics, and track record) that you’re either all-Microsoft or no-Microsoft is my “web rift”. I’ve written about this a couple of times before, and it never fails to raise the ire of some Microsoft fan or other.
This particular RedMonk post is chiefly concerned, it seems to me, with making sure that Microsoft’s Astoria doesn’t disappear under the continuous din of innovation Amazon is putting up for us lately around their cloud computing services. The essential new thing about Astoria in Coté’s mind is that it is a RESTful framework rather than a .NET framework:
If you’re just coding to a URL, that’s not quit so bad as coding to a .Net library and all the Microsoft baggage and tool-chain needed to support that.
I agree, but I think Coté has obfuscated two issues together that don’t have to be: the issue of how software components communicate versus whether a solution is hosted/SaaS or not. One can imagine components communicating RESTfully without any need to have them be hosted in SaaS fashion. My own bias would be to go ahead and host, but it’s not a requirement and to put the two together as one is conflating the issue (don’t you love that word “conflate” that has drifted into common use here in the valley?). Coté’s contention that hosting itself will reduce fears of lock-in is also pretty hard to swallow. While I am again a whole-hearted advocate, giving your software over to a hosted environment and all of its attendant API’s (RESTful or not) is a big step towards lock-in, no matter how you look at it. This is again an area where Microsoft’s old school monopolist behavior won’t serve it well. There will be fear, perhaps unreasonable, that Microsoft will take unfair advantage if handed the keys to your kingdom by hosting on their cloud infrastructure. The problem is that they’ve failed to conduct themselves as the Swiss do in matters of banking. They are voracious competitors and seemingly always will be. It isn’t enough for them to win, others must lose.
There are several other interesting points made in the post. For example, on the issue of hosting, Coté wonders why big companies are so slow to launch. It’s very true, we’ve seen it for all the big players. The answer is perhaps that they have more to lose and are more likely to reach the win-lose decision point too quickly and with too much momentum to gracefully correct the problems. Startups have a distinct advantage in this. It’s not clear to me why more big companies don’t fund startups expressly to deal with the issue with the intention of acquiring them later if things work out.
Coté also makes a hugely important point about the value of self-service:
My sense is that unless it’s all delivered as a URL with dead-simple docs and pricing (check out the page for SimpleDB), any given technology won’t work out at web-scale.
Put another way, these new technologies need to be completely self-service. If a developer has to ever talk with a human from the company or team offering the project, something has gone wrong.
Self-service is a crucial part of viral growth potential in today’s world. Any company that releases a product without at least a semblance of a plan for how to make it self-service at some point down the road is laying the foundations for failure.
This is typical of Microsoft’s “we don’t have to be nice, we’re the phone company” (appologies to Lily Tomlyn) behavior. To access your old files requires you to delve into the registry. Microsoft claims these old files are a security risk. It’s tacky, it’s more lock-in, and it’s more evidence that MSFT is up to their same old tricks.