September 7, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Microsoft opening up on the Web

Microsoft opening up on the Web
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On the PC, Microsoft may not be writing every program that people use, but by controlling the operating system, the company has maintained a dominant position.

The company is in the early stages of trying to carve out a similar role on the Internet. To do that, Microsoft is not just branching out, but also reaching out to make itself more compatible with rivals.

"When you talk to people who are heavy Internet users, they don't all use just one service from one company," Microsoft corporate vice president Chris Jones said in an interview this week. "They end up using a smattering of services."

For sure, Microsoft would like to have people use its Web mail service, its instant-messaging software and its blog software, but what it wants most is to ensure that it has some central role for the vast majority of Web surfers.

"When you talk to people who are heavy Internet users, they don't all use just one service from one company. They end up using a smattering of services."
--Chris Jones, Microsoft corporate vice president

Of course, Microsoft is not alone in this pursuit. Google and Yahoo, and potentially others, also covet such a role. And in many cases, rivals have the early lead.

Microsoft is trying to strike back by building on its strength--Windows. While its first products were browser-based services and largely a rebranding of existing MSN products, the company's latest products are desktop programs. They are also more open. Windows Live Mail, for example, works particularly well with a Windows Live Hotmail account, but also can be used with other Web mail services.

Directions on Microsoft analyst Matt Rosoff said he expects this to become a model for Microsoft as time goes on. "I don't think we've seen anywhere close to the end of these," he said. (Rosoff is also a writer for the CNET blog network.)

Microsoft's newfound openness is evident in several other pieces of the company's strategy.

For those who do like the Windows Live services on the Web, the company is making sure they are accessible from non-Microsoft devices as well. The company recently struck a deal with Nokia to make Microsoft services accessible from its smart phones.

And as it tries to take on Adobe's ubiquitous Flash with its Silverlight platform for Web developers, Microsoft is again hoping to be seen as open, announcing this week that it will add support for Linux, in addition to Windows and the Mac.

The idea is that, at some point along the way to the Internet, Microsoft--and therefore its ad engine--touch nearly everyone. Of course, this is a bit harder than it has been on the desktop side.

In some cases, Microsoft is hoping that it can move into markets where it is not already a strong player, largely by aggregating the efforts of others. Social networking is one area where the company has discussed such a role.

Jones again hinted at this, saying that in the real world he has many different social networks and that he expects the same to be true on the Internet. "I'll probably be involved in many and what I'll want to do is make it really easy to stay in touch with all of them," he said. "And so how can we build software services that help?"

In some cases, Microsoft is also looking to link its existing tools with the social networks, such as a deal with Bebo to use Microsoft's contacts and instant-messaging technologies. The contacts part of the arrangement means that on Bebo there will be a secure way for Windows Live users to bring their contacts over to the social network. That contrasts with many social-network sites that just ask for your e-mail account name and password.

Aiming to provide more of the basics
Beyond such one-off deals, Microsoft is eyeing a role at providing some more basic services, such as sharing and accessing files. Windows Live Photo Gallery, a Windows application that went into public beta testing this week, is an example of a starting point for photo storage, but Microsoft has its sights set higher.

"Over time you'd like to have the service so that all your photos were available from any device, not just the ones you put in your photo album, and that it was easy to have those things backed up, to have them with the resolution you want, and then to have very collaborative experiences with pictures," Jones said.

"So, that you can see with photos we've taken a big step in this release of Windows Live, but we've got more to do."

The same goes for file sharing, he said. "We have a cloud-based way to do file sharing called SkyDrive, and then we have a peer-to-peer based way to do it called FolderShare," Jones said. "Well, over time it might make sense for us to really start to make that experience be seamless so you could get to all your files from anywhere."

Those two are just the first pieces in what Microsoft hopes will be an entire Live infrastructure that developers can write on top of, much the way they write programs that run on top of Windows today. It's a notion that some have dubbed a "cloud OS."

Such services are going to take massive amounts of storage space, which Microsoft also believes will eventually lead to a battle between only a few large companies for many of these core infrastructure pieces.

But as it pursues these different strategies, clashes among different parts of Microsoft seem inevitable. Silverlight, the Windows Live services team and the Live infrastructure group are all trying to be Web platforms of one sort or another.

And even the browser is a tough one for Microsoft. The company doesn't want to lose potential users of its services by not supporting Firefox, but Internet Explorer market share helps strengthen Windows.

"It gets to 'What is the goal of Windows Live?'" Rosoff said. "You want the most audience for the services, but you want to maintain the importance of Windows, and Internet Explorer is a part of Windows. There are some conflicts with the entire online services strategy," Rosoff said.

But internal conflict is part of Microsoft's way of doing business. Rosoff notes that the Windows Media Center, Xbox and Internet TV groups all are aiming to be the center of the digital living room.

"To some degree that's the way Microsoft has always worked," Rosoff said. "They've always allowed technology to compete and not necessarily picked a winner."

See more CNET content tagged:
Chris Jones, Bebo, social networking, Microsoft Windows Live, contact


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Who Cares What Microsoft is doing
Microsoft has had years to earn my trust. I just don't buy what they do anymore. They over promise and under deliver. I am done with MS products and don't trust that they EVER do anything with the customer in mind. It is all about THEM. Silverlight will be on all platforms...until Microsoft has dominance, then they'll pull the plug from non-Windows platforms. I don't trust them and never will.
Posted by clpdan (27 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Your comment was completely lacking in insight or value. I give it
an 78 but only becuse it has a good beat you can dance too.
Posted by rapier1 (2722 comments )
Link Flag
what ?
I love these comments from guys like you who just put put out a statement without any facts and as if this has been true in every product Microsoft has delivered.
Either you are too smart or the rest of the world (which is 90%) is just dumb to use MS products.
Make something which everyone can use and then criticize. Not like Apple products which are cool but overpriced so only the loyal and crazy folks can buy. (and then cry later when prices are reduced)
Posted by csg7 (81 comments )
Link Flag
I agree with you
I acctually stopped using MS products for the most part about 2 years ago. I was given VIsta for free and it ended up in the trash can, I can't acctually believe people would pay money for that trash. Good thing I switched to Max OS X and I love it. Linux is finally getting some good vendor support and ATI just announced expanded graphics drivers for Linux to give it more power, now I know who's graphics cards I will be buying for my Linux workstations.

I still use a little bit of Excel, because work uses it, but that's about it. Xbox 360 is crap too, mine broke 3 times, I just sold that damn thing and am just sticking with PS3 and my friend has the Wii, so I get to play that too, it's fun.
Posted by RompStar_420 (772 comments )
Link Flag
Evidently a lot of people care what MS is doing
Their competitors, their supporters. If you don't like them, then go back into your little cave so you'll never hear anything about them again. If you do have an ounce of care, then I'll ask you, did you even play with this product yet? Have you any comments, technically, about its value vs. its competitors like Flash? Come on folks, let's have some intelligent comments here without the same old company bashing that y'all are so accustomed to.
Posted by spacydog (380 comments )
Link Flag
Your post is clear evidence
Posted by TanNg (31 comments )
Link Flag
Open Like a Bear Trap
Everything MSFT says or does must be filtered through its history of criminal deception, infringement, extortionate business practices and pathological mendacity. You can invite Hannibal Lector to dinner but you have to be careful. This scheme is like any other MSFT tie-in/lock-in campaign designed to destroy or neutralize competitors and lock consumers into Windows. On the web, though, the only choke points it will get its hands on are ones that are given to it.
Posted by Sumatra-Bosch (526 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Open enough to not be totally ignored.
It's not truely cross-platform if the tools to create the content
aren't. Sure the plug-in works on Windows, Mac and Linux - but
the development tools are Windows only. I'll be sticking to Flash
development. The majority of people who I know that do web
development of this kind use Flash on Macs - they're not going to
go the PC route. I don't see this technology going far.
Posted by jerrybrace (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Its not the same ball game
Microsoft, may not remain open but there are open source projects that will emulate and support WPF/e if you do not think so then you are a fool.

Do not believe me look at moonlight, supported by Novel but that does not mean it will not be supported by other Open Source projects in fact WPF/e borrowed alot of its features from existing open source, Glade looks a lot like WPF/e but has been in use long since WPF/e.

And I am sorry to say but adobe is not taking advantage of what the web could be. Let me ask you a question, how indexable are flash movies??? As the web goes into the direction of more and more rich media, sites at one point or another are going to be impossible to index.

Meta tags are not the answer (hell goto youtube and type any popular phrase and you will get crap!) Because people LIE! content does not!

one nice thing about silverlight/moonlight is the ability to index this data, its just a text file.

Flash is ok, but the development methodology is one language Actionscript which a Javascript based language.

I have seen some interesting things with both technology, and i would prefer that there was more choice then just one. Flash development $expensive$, WPF (What does a text editor cost these days?)

But hey, the developers and the community at large will determine what will be the next thing.

And all in all I trust the OS community as a whole
not the zealots or elites who say yuck Microsoft. Also can we get over the whole evil company sort of thing. It does not need to be said over and over again, Microsoft was a monopoly but Open Source has caused them to start playing fair and to actually create products that do useful things SQL Server, Biz Talk, etc and so forth.

I look forward to WPF, WCF and WF support in mono,
Posted by mxrss (35 comments )
Link Flag
(We) want to maintain the importance of Windows
and that is getting harder and harder to do every day because as web apps, etc. become more mature (and popular) the operating system you run becomes less and less important.

It won't be too many years before the average user won't know or care what operating system his pc/terminal/tv/whatever is running. And that scares Microsoft.

Because, when that happens, the name Microsoft won't mean any more to the average user than the name WindRiver would today.
Posted by rcrusoe (1305 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You do realize that then it would be SAAS
I mean do you really want to augment the web as the only platform, where other people have your data and all you pay for is a window to it?? I am not easy with that feeling, besides something that you suggest is still decades off.

While Google Gears and other Off line technologies will accelerate it, we are still along way off. One is that servers while fast could not accommodate all the business users in the world, and i would imagine that no business would trust another company with their data. Two, broadband is just not there yet and web apps are still severly limited. While companies have made spread sheet programs, they are still majorly lacking from current equivelent desktop apps.

While forms applications may be easy to replace, it would put duress on servers. And then we would move to the old Mainframe client type of setup that was in use more then 30 years ago.
Posted by mxrss (35 comments )
Link Flag
It's Official: Apple is the New Microsoft
Don't be so hard on Microsoft or Apple.

<a class="jive-link-external" href=",136949-c,companynews/article.html" target="_newWindow">,136949-c,companynews/article.html</a>
Posted by Millerboy (104 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Maybe missing the point?
My company does a ton of Flash and Flex development and I don't ever see us switching to Silverlight but I think a lot of the critisism misses the point.

The point as I see it: Microsoft has a lot of very happy, very dedicated .NET developers who will absolutely jump at the opportunity to develop this type of rich cross-platform content. Microsoft has great tools for developers and from what I have read Silverlight will make it pretty painless for .NET developers to deploy sophisticated rich Internet applications using what the already know and resources they already have.

That said, I think the Flash IDE is pretty terrible for coding, a point largely missed because most Flash developers are not coders. My company is very lucky to have a couple talented ActionScript programmers but trying to find new top-end talent is very hard, even in the SF bay area.

Flex is alright in my humble opinion but I think Adobe has a lot of work to do to close their own gaps and make Flash/Flex really shine for companies with hardcore development needs. Will Apollo do this? I don't know as I haven't had much time to research, but somehow I doubt it.

I'm keenly interested to see what will come of Silverlight because there is a lot of real programming talent that are already geared to do the work. I do hope Microsoft continues to support this as cross-platform, but I think they will since that'll be a primary reason why .NET developers will be using it to begin with.

I think Silverlight is a lot less about locking people into Windows as it is about letting current Windows developers expand their presence into other platforms and attracting new developers with Visual Studio. I use Eclipse and program mostly LAMP but from what I've seen and heard from friends is that Visual Studio is pretty much cream of the crop when it comes to really shiny, really integrated end-to-end developement.
Posted by ncalishome (193 comments )
Reply Link Flag
.net "developers"
"I think they will since that'll be a primary reason why .NET developers will be using it to begin with"

.net is not cross platform. No, mono doesn't count.

So if someone is already developing for a single platform why would they use cross-platform compatibility as a reason to continue using it?

If if MS doesn't stab Linux and OSX users in the back, the development platform is not cross-platform.

There are simply too many great cross-platform(client and developer) web solutions today for many to be interested in a proprietary lock-in "solution"
Posted by The_Decider (3097 comments )
Link Flag
Content Does Not Lie
Well most of the time anyway, video files and other crap can lie, but blogs and stuff lie about thier content, google has finally goten rid of thier bug with links (read French Military Victories) but if its text based and it has text that describes it, then it can not lie.

I like the web in where people index data, not machines. Tim Berners Lee is on to something there.

- Mike
Posted by mxrss (35 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Embrace, Extend, Extinguish Part II
With this new standards embrace come the stealthy insertions of SilverLight and Microsoft's new photo format.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Open Like ActiveX...
Just more M$ BS. Open means open. and Standard ? Standardize.
Can anyone explain how you configuration control 7 different
versions of the same operating system? I just love Vista! I want my
computer to talk to Microsoft all the time too. Just one more step
to M$ version of "trusted computing".

Keep up the good work.

Posted by fastdodge (32 comments )
Reply Link Flag
An interesting bit of hypocrisy can be seen in these so-called "open" initiatives, when one looks at Microsoft's recent activity with their Hotmail service.

Some months ago, Microsoft made some changes to Hotmail that purposely closed it off from platforms other than Windows (and apparently MacOS). Firefox, Safari, and, of course, IE were "allowed" to access Hotmail. Firefox 2 would work on Windows, but not in Linux. Firefox 3 had just come out and was also a "tolerated" browser. There was no functional reason for adding code that told users 'you have to upgrade your browser'. In fact, if the browser identification was changed (aka "user agent"; for example, "I'm Firefox 2 running on Windows") there was no problem using Hotmail. The "problem" was entirely artificial. They are only trying to make competitors appear "incompatible".

Just recently, Microsoft has taken the next step. Apparently, even Firefox 3 is now being treated with prejudice on some platforms (though obviously not on MS Windows).

This is the company that smiles and says, "Yes, we are all for opening up the Web." Meanwhile, they sabotage competing platforms and applications.

Interesting that this bit of news doesn't appear in any of the big guys' news sites, including CNET.

Posted by thinkrandom (3 comments )
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