Standing on the Platform of a Giant

What company has technology that may not be leading edge, but is often easier to deploy and has the support of thousands who use it and have created a myriad number of solutions that might fit you and your partner's needs?

Consider two common ideas:

  1. To succeed in the technology market you have to be innovative and lead the market.
  2. To succeed in the technology market, you have to produce the best technology.

On any given day, you can find a tech exec somewhere dispensing such wisdom. I'd add just one caveat: Microsoft is no longer, within the tech environment, a particularly innovative company, and its technology is rarely the clear technical leader. But it is the most successful software company on the planet.

How can you succeed if you're not in the front with the best? In Microsoft's case, it's because it's in most places with the most technology. That is, it has the broadest range of products and customers, and while it may not be the first, it may be the first that people notice.

These reflections came to mind recently while I listened to a couple of top Microsoft executives mulling over the company's future directions. The topic was services, although the executives I listened to were remarkably nonspecific about what services they feel will be important in the future. One spoke for an entire hour about services that would be provided over the Internet without once mentioning either Windows Live Services or Live Search, which seem like remarkable omissions.

However, each executive--Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie and General Manager of Platform Strategy Charles Fitzgerald--made an important point about Microsoft's strategy, namely that the company's big goal is to incorporate services into its platforms. Fitzgerald called it the "democratizing" of technology, making it easily available to both users and developers. Microsoft has done this for years, realizes its value and plans to keep doing it.

Microsoft's platforms include the Windows client and server operating systems; development tools and development frameworks, such as .NET; and hosted services such as Office Live (which is basically Windows SharePoint Services, running on Windows Server and hosted by Microsoft).

How does Microsoft incorporate services into its platforms? Fitzgerald listed three kinds of services: software building blocks that developers can use, services on the Web that integrate with desktop clients (for instance, a desktop client that pulls down RSS feeds), or Web-only products, such as Hotmail. Okay, maybe you're underwhelmed by these examples (I was), but that's missing a bigger point: Because the capabilities to do these things are in the platform and not just in specific applications, everyone who has the platform has these capabilities.

The value of this approach for partners is enormous.

Let's assume the following: First, Microsoft delivers mature platforms with a full complement of accessible services (which is mostly true already). Second, your client uses Windows desktops and Windows servers. Third, you understand what the platform offers and how you can get at it (which will depend on your skill and experience, but Microsoft offers a lot of help).

If those assumptions are accurate, it means that when you talk to a customer about a problem or an opportunity, you both already have most of the pieces you need to create a working solution.

The customer already has the software services (in the technical sense, as an operating system function that runs without a direct user interface) that the partner can access through developer tools or through applications that the partner builds or brings in from a developer partner. You have them because Microsoft built them, shipped them, and made them widely and inexpensively available.

The partner can use developer or management tools to "light up" running services or capabilities by writing code that exploits them. Many of these services are network-aware, so they can share data with other devices, grab it from the Internet or manipulate it in creative ways.

In the long run, it may mean--this is too much to hope, but I'll mention it anyway--that the company realizes that these ubiquitous platforms are its greatest asset, and that it will best succeed if it focuses on the actual platforms rather than on the services that they might enable. Google may thrash Microsoft on search, may thrash it on Web-based applications, but neither reaches Microsoft's toenails in terms of platform strength.

It's a good platform to stand on, and it's one you already own.

About the Author

Paul DeGroot is principle consultant with Pica Communications, which provides consulting services for customers with complex Microsoft licensing issues.