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Microsoft’s Expensive Rift With the Web Has to Change

Microsoft has isolated itself on an island.  Connections to the island are via the Web, and they’re pretty good, so this the isolation isn’t apparent to most, but it is a powerful force that I’ve known about for some time.  Ever since their spat with Sun over Java, Microsoft has been on an increasingly proprietary path called .NET.  Symbolically, support from Microsoft for the Java Virtual Machine ends at the end of this year.

Internally, Microsoft is actively hostile to anything that runs outside the .NET protocols.  Try selling them a piece of Enterprise Software written in Java and you’ll see what I mean.

All this amounts to cutting off their nose to spite their face.  If there is one thing the web has spawned it’s communities.  These communities on the development side are built up around platforms and languages of various kinds.  .NET is largely excluded from that except for the odd company that happens to have a bunch of .NET afficionados on board and goes that route.  It’s symptomatic that you can find about 18 million Google hits on “SQL Server” but there are 77 million hits on mySQL.  There are 2+ billion hits for PHP and 135 million for Java.  C# gets a modest 15 million hits. 

The loss of community around Microsoft has been profound, and it has far reaching consequences.  If fewer embrace the platform, fewer know the platform, and hence fewer will start their next gig on the platform.  But here is what really got me thinking about the community consequences of the Microsoft’s Rift With the Web:  acquisitions and partnerships. 

Steve Ballmer, when asked about Google, compares Microsoft’s search to a 12 year old playing basketball: they can’t dunk yet.  He says they’ll learn to dunk on Google by buying 20 companies a year for the next 5 years.

It’s actually not a bad idea, but are there 20 interesting companies a year built on .NET, and hence compatible with the Microsoft “state religion”, to be had?  I don’t think so.  Equally as bad, the Web does business differently in many ways.  Open Source is a great example, and Microsoft doesn’t really understand how to engage with that.

Hence, Microsoft needs to repair their rift and start embracing some of the other technologies out there.  It’s going to be hard to break the habit of dogma, and harder still for the acquirees who will be asked to commit many unnatural acts in order to fit into the Microsoft family. 

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