Or so says Microsoft's Craig Mundie in an engaging interview with APC Magazine. You've got to give Microsoft some credit: the company spends a lot of time thinking through strategic issues in technology like few others. This interview reveals that.
I found Mundie's comment on Google particularly insightful:
APC: So do you feel that is a major competitive advantage over Google for example? That you have the desktop software expertise along with online services?
Craig Mundie: Well yes and no. I mean, the fact is: Google's existence and success required Microsoft to have been successful previously to create the platform that allowed them to go on and connect people to their search servers.
This is dead-on correct. There was no need for a Google until we lived in a world that could publish information to the web, and that could create the information in the first place. Love it or hate it (and I tend to be in the "strong distaste for it" camp), Windows has been good for the industry, up to a point (that's the point when the monopoly kicked in). The world needed a standard way to build the computing infrastructure that would power the web...with content.
That means giving lots of people the ability to create their own content on their desktops. Windows did this. Would it have been better to have had an open desktop? Of course. But in its absence, Microsoft filled the vacuum.
Is the desktop still relevant? Of course it is, though the particular platform running the desktop matters less and less. As for the move of all computing to the Internet, I'm 100% with Mundie:
APC: So, Microsoft's big money-makers are still Windows and Office, right? Is there going to be an inflection point where Microsoft stops relying on desktop software revenues and focuses on online services?
Craig Mundie: No I don't think so because our view right now is that the future is really about these composite experiences of locally running software in the client devices, working in conjunction with services that exist in the internet cloud....
I think there was a period of popular mythology, where everybody was saying the whole world is going to migrate to 'software as a service' over the internet. We absolutely don't think that is true and I think it is increasingly recognised as not likely to be true.
Rather, what will happen is that you'll have, a seamless integration of locally running software in increasingly powerful client devices (not just desktops) and a set of services that work in conjunction with that.
I think he's right. What I hope, however, is that we don't have the same companies controlling the Internet as control the desktop. I just think it's bad policy to invest too much faith in any particular vendor, benevolent or not. I'm a 'checks and balances' sort of person.
However, mitigating that risk is the very real likelihood that any one vendor will be ill-prepared to manage both the "online" and "offline" (Internet and desktop) worlds. Companies that are good with hosted offerings tend to be less adept with desktop or server-based offerings, and vice versa. You can't be omni-competent.
Still, I worry about Mundie's commentary related to this:
Now, Microsoft's business is not to control the platform per se, but in fact to allow it to be exploited by the world's developers. The fact that we have it out there gives us a good business, but in some ways it doesn't give us an advantage over any of the other developers in terms of being able to utilise it.
Rubbish. If Microsoft truly felt that it was only in the platform business, we'd be fine. But Microsoft is in the platforms and applications business. That means it is simultaneously a vendor's best friend...and worst enemy. Microsoft tries to balance these competing interests, but as the numbers at stake get ever larger, it fails more and more often.