February 26, 2008

Microsoft Reveals Secrets and Enterprise Architecture

This week Microsoft said they had a big announcement, and that it wasn’t about Yahoo! It turns out that Microsoft decided to reveal some of their technical documents for Microsoft Vista, Office, and other applications.

Why would a company like Microsoft reveal their technical secrets to partners and rivals alike? How is this decision a good architecture move, especially by the master architect himself, Bill Gates?

We all know that companies strive to achieve strategic competitive advantage and that one major way to do this is by product differentiation. The goal is to develop a unique product offering that customers want and need and then build market share. In some case, this results in a situation like Microsoft’s virtual monopoly status in desktop operating systems and productivity suites.

So why give up the keys to the Microsoft kingdom?

Well they are not giving up the keys, maybe just giving a peek inside. And an article in The Wall Street Journal, 22 February 2008 tells us why Microsoft is doing this:

  1. Internet Revolution—“For 30 years, Microsoft has…tightly held onto the technical details of how its software works… [and] it become one of the most lucrative franchises in business history. But Microsoft traditional products aren’t designed to evolve via add-ons or tweaks of thousands of non-Microsoft programmers. Nor can they be easily mixed or matched with other software and services not controlled by Microsoft or its partners. Now the Internet is making that kind of evolution possible, and transforming the way software is made and distributed.” As Ray Ozzie, chief software architect of Microsoft states: “The world really has changed.”
  2. Do or die—Microsoft’s prior business model was leading it down a path of eventual extinction. “The more people use these applications [free technologies and shareware], the less they need they have for Microsoft’s applications.” Microsoft is hoping to maintain their relevance.
  3. Antitrust ruling—“Last September, an appeals court in Luxembourg ruled against Microsoft in a long-running European case that forced Microsoft to announce a month later that it would drop its appeals and take steps to license information to competitors.”
  4. Interoperability—“Microsoft announced in July 2006 [its “Windows Principles”]…such as a commitment to providing rival developers with access to interfaces that let their products talk with Windows.” The key here is customer requirements for systems interoperability and Microsoft is begrudgingly going along.

Is this fifth such announcement on sharing by Microsoft the charm? I suppose it all hinges on how much marketplace and legal pressure Microsoft is feeling to divulge its secrets.

So it this the right User-centric EA decision?

If Microsoft is listening to their users, then they will comply and share technical details of their products, so that new technology products in the market can develop that add on to Microsoft’s and are fully interoperable. The longer Microsoft fights the customer, the more harm they are doing to their brand.

At the same time, no one can expect Microsoft to do anything that will hurt their own pocketbook, so as long as they can successfully maintain their monopoly, they will. Not that Microsoft is going away, but they are holding onto a fleeting business model. In the information age, Microsoft will have to play ball and show some goodwill to their users.


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