Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Microsoft's Best Move Yet

A TickerHound member asked:

“If Microsoft can't get Yahoo! then what's next for the company?”

Normally I might’ve shrugged my shoulders, suggested another acquisition candidate and considered the conversation over. Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), while still a very successful company, hasn’t yet shown me that they really “get” the web.

That is until Tuesday night!

Let me explain…

Now when I first heard that Ray Ozzie was joining Microsoft I was thrilled, to say the least. Ray Ozzie has been innovating in the tech space for decades and has really been one of the few consistent hitters when it comes to emerging technologies.

But after watching (quite frankly) a series of disappointing product launches come out of Microsoft for the last few years, I began to lose faith in Oz.

Had he lost his touch?

Did being stuck in the confines of Microsoft rob him of his mojo?

Well he must’ve taken some notes from Austin Powers, because as of the other night, the “Great and Powerful Oz” has finally gotten his mojo back!

Lately, much of my focus has revolved around web-based services. For example, a couple of weeks ago I wrote about Google’s new web application platform (Why Microsoft Should be Shaking in Its Boots): App Engine.

This is was a HUGE move for Google and one that I think will serve the company very well in the future.

At the end of the article I asked if this was “check or check mate?” for Microsoft. Well, I think Microsoft just answered my question…and it is most certainly NOT the end of the line for the boys in Redmond.

On Tuesday evening Microsoft announced its most ambitious plan since the launch of Windows 95 – Microsoft’s upcoming “Live Mesh” service.

Similar to Google’s application platform, Microsoft hopes developers will make use of its toolset in order to develop robust web-enabled applications. But Microsoft is taking the vision a bit further. Instead of giving people a backbone to host their web-centric software on, Microsoft is providing a fully integrated platform that connects web applications directly to a user’s device(s).

Ozzie’s vision is to have a service in place where Microsoft’s products – and anyone else who wants to develop applications for the platform – can be synchronized across all devices (phones, PDA’s, game consoles, etc.)

How About an Example?

Ok, let’s say you have your trusty camera phone out at a ball game and decide to snap a quick photo of your favorite New York Yankee, Derek Jeter. Instead of just saving the photo to your phone, Microsoft’s Live Mesh will instantly beam it to your PC back home and your online photo album (along with any other connected device).

Then when you get home, you decide you want to edit the photo a bit because it’s a tad blurry (i.e. you can’t see the ball flying over the Red Sox outfielder’s head clearly). So you touch the photo up on your PC and instantly, the photos on your PC, your phone and your online photo album are all updated at the same time with no other action on your part.

And that’s just a silly example with photos…

Now imagine what that means when it comes to calendars, contracts and other business documents?

The array of services and solutions that can be built on top of a holistic platform like this are endless.

Microsoft’s also launching community features into Live Mesh, which in my opinion, makes it dramatically more powerful than anything else taking shape on the web right now.

Imagine you’re working on a team with several other people and you’re trying to edit a Power Point presentation or a Word document.

The Old Way:

  • You make a change to the file

  • You email it to everyone and wait for feedback

  • Then you realize that somebody else changed a part of the file that doesn’t quite match yours and now you have to work their changes in on top of your own

The New Way:

  • Everybody makes changes in real time, regardless of what type of device they’re using

  • Everybody’s copy is synchronized

  • There’s a record (visible to everyone in the group) of every change that was made so it’s easy to rollback and clean things up

Think about the productivity gains here! Think about the types of services that can be built on top of this platform. Think about the amount of commerce that this will drive – and not just for Microsoft, but for every web, desktop and mobile application developer out there!

Plenty of people would argue that this isn’t a direct competitor to Google’s platform, but I think if we examine the implications of a universal application platform, that bridges the device-to-internet gap in a seamless way, we’ll see that this is definitely Microsoft’s best move yet!

So even if Google’s platform is the foundation that the cities of the web are built upon, then Microsoft’s Live Mesh will be the roads that bind them together.

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