Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Ray Ozzie's "Internet Service Disruption" Memo and Microsoft Access

Dave Winer published copies of Bill Gates' October 30, 2005 internal e-mail message and Ray Ozzie's memo of October 28, 2005 on November 9, 2005. Bill Gates' "Internet Software Services" e-mail laid the historical foundation for Ray Ozzie's initial definition of "The Internet Services Disruption" to Microsoft's increasingly ossified weltanschauung. Ray Ozzie's memo attempts to instill leaders of Microsoft's three new divisions—Platform Products & Services, Business, and Entertainment & Devices—with a "'services-enhanced software' mindset." Internal distribution of the message and memo preceded the pair's November 1, 2005 announcement of Windows Live and Office Live at a San Francisco flackfest, and followed by a few days the brief exposure of Google Base on October 25, 2005. Update 11/21/2005: Mini-Microsoft analyzes Ray Ozzie's memo in "A Disruptive Defrag for Microsoft." The beta version of Google Base went live in the evening of November 15, 2005, and Ray Ozzie started version 3 of his blog at MSN Spaces on November 16. A November 20, 2005 post ("Really Simple Sharing") describes a proposed RSS extension for content synchronization specification called Simple Sharing Extensions (SSE). The SSE FAQ is here. Microsoft is releeasing the specification under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license. View the Memeorandum 11/21/2005 page snapshot.

Update 12/7/2005: ComputerWorld's Robert L. Mitchell criticizes a pre-beta version of Office Live in his "Office Live: The demo" post. Microsoft responds in the comments.

Update 12/11/2005: The New York Times' Steve Lohr writes in "Can This Man Reprogram Microsoft?"—"The man whom Mr. Gates is counting on to make a difference is Ray Ozzie, a soft-spoken 50-year-old who joined the company just eight months ago. He has the daunting task of galvanizing the troops to address the Internet services challenge, shaking things up and quickening the corporate pulse." ZDNet's Dan Farber comments in "Reprogramming Microsoft and the GoogleNet PC"—"Steve Lohr's New York Times article 'Can this man reprogram Microsoft' doesn't offer much that hasn't already been endlessly reported about Ray Ozzie's background and mission to bring the services economy to Microsoft. He does bring up Google's discussions with thin-client system maker Wyse Technology: 'The discussions are focused on a $200 Google-branded machine that would likely be marketed in cooperation with telecommunications companies in markets like China and India, where home PC's are less common, said John Kish, chief executive of Wyse.'"

Update 4/19/2006: David Kirkpatrick's "Microsoft's new brain" article for Fortune (April 18, 2006) has this deck: "Brutal competition. A stock going nowhere. Microsoft is in crisis, so Bill Gates has unleashed his new hire, software genius Ray Ozzie, to remake the company - and conquer the Web." The article describes in depth a June 2005 meeting of the top 15 Microsoft executives run by recently hired Ray Ozzie. The article claims that "Put simply, Ozzie's assignment is to Webify everything: To intertwine Microsoft's entire product line - software for consumers, software for businesses, Xboxes, all of it - with the vast and ever-growing power of the Net. 'Everything we do should have a presence on the Web,' Ozzie says." Adam Green says here that "Everyone would have to admit that with Google Base turning out to be the world's biggest RSS database and Ray Ozzie announcing Microsoft's synchronization and replication protocol based on RSS, Dave Winer is having the best week ever!. ... Microsoft and Google are being maneuvered into a massive game of chicken. I'll show everyone my Office data if you'll show your search data, and Dave is instigating it." Google Base, Access, SharePoint and Office Live Apparently, Google Base got Ray Ozzie's attention directed to online databases. His memo mentions Access twice, first in the context of "lightweight development":

The rapid growth of application assembly using things such as REST, JavaScript and PHP suggests that many developers gravitate toward very rapid, lightweight ways to create and compose solutions. We have always appreciated the need for lightweight development by power users in the form of products such as Access and SharePoint. We should revisit whether we’re adequately serving the lightweight model of development and solution composition for all classes of development. [Emphasis added.]
And next in a paragraph labeled "rapid solutions":
How can we utilize our extant products and our knowledge of the broad historical adoption of forms-based applications to jump-start an effort that could dramatically surpass offerings from Quick[B]ase to Salesforce.com? How could we build it to scale to hundreds of millions of users at an unimaginably low cost that would change the game? How could we re-shape our client-side software offerings such as Access and Groove, and our server offerings such as SharePoint, to grow and thrive in the presence of such a service? Could these rapid solutions encourage a new ISV ecosystem and business model? [Emphasis and link added].
Notice the association of Access with SharePoint in both topics. Integration of Access tables with Windows SharePoint Services (WSS 3.0) lists appears to be one of Access 12's major "new" features. (Access 2003 already includes basic WSS 2.0 list import, export, and linking capabilities.) Microsoft Watch's Mary Jane Foley reported on September 29, 2005 that Kevin Johnson, co-president of the Platform Products & Services division, "... hinted there might be another managed service SKU around SharePoint Portal Server in the works." InformationWeek's Barbara Darrow speculated on October 26, 2005: "Within a year, the Redmond, Wash.-based company plans to offer hosted implementations of SharePoint as well as CRM and ERP applications, several sources said." Darrows quotes Bill Gates from a September 15, 2005 interview in Computer Reseller News:
"SharePoint today runs primarily on premises. We have some partners who are doing hosted SharePoint. We are looking at what our role is in helping people with SharePoint,” Gates said [at] Microsoft’s Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles. “So technologically, the server equals service thing year by year is making good progress."

Update 11/29/2005: Microsoft Watcher Mary Jo Foley says in "Services Microsoft Should, Could (and Just Might) Develop"—"There's no way that Microsoft is going to leave the online classified market to Google & Co. There has to be a GoogleBase competitor in Microsoft's line-up. (Anyone out there heard a codename?)" Micro Persuasion's Steve Rubel claims "Google, Microsoft to Go Hard After Classifieds," and provides a link to Yardley.ca's "Microsoft’s ‘Fremont’ a Craigslist competitor" and TechCrunch's "Microsoft “Fremont” to Launch" items.

The obvious question is how Microsoft can scale and monetize a free (or very low-cost), multi-tenanted, Internet-based version of intranet-oriented WSS 3.0 or SharePoint Portal Server.

The QuickBase Model for Google Base

Ozzie's mention of Intuit's QuickBase in the second topic is significant when viewed in the light of Google's potential entry into the online database business. QuickBase began life as a consumer-oriented, forms-based application for sharing database content on the Internet. Lack of consumer interest in paying $14.95/month for up to 15 databases caused QuickBase to morph into a pricey WSS act-alike for corporate workgroups (US$249/month, minimum, for up to 10 users, 5 MB of data, and 100 MB of attachments.) New Access 12 database templates are likely to mimic packaged QuickBase project management, customer service, professional services, marketing, legal, real estate and IT management applications. WSS 3.0 includes new, lightweight project-management features. Project management is one of QuickBase's most popular pre-built applications, and 37signals offers Basecamp—a Web-based project management app—for US$12 - $99 per month. According to Microsoft's "A discussion of what's new in Access 12" blog, the Access 12 templates are "compatible with SharePoint, so users who want to build collaborative apps on SharePoint with them can do so easily."

Note: BusinessWeek's Rob Hof wrote a brief—but glowing—review of Basecamp ("Teamwork, Supercharged—We test one of the latest Web-based management tools: Basecamp") for the November 21, 2005 issue's cover story, "The Web Smart 50." The Richard Bird of R.BIRD & Company, Inc. mentioned in the review has an About Design blog. Basecamp was the first Ruby on Rails project from which 37signals extracted the Rails Web framework. You'll find Rob's interview of 37signals' founder—"37 Signals, 1 Clear Message—CEO Jason Fried's startup philosophy can be summed up in three short words: Keep it simple." (BusinessWeek links might require registration/subscription.") I'm betting that lightweight project management will become the first poster child for a surfeit of low-cost, ad-supported, or hybrid SaaS. Initial Google Base standard data entry and display forms cover course schedules, events and activities, housing, jobs, news and articles, people profiles, products, recipes, reference articles, reviews, services, travel, vehicles, and wanted ads. But Google claims to offer the ability to define your own table fields and design custom forms, much like Access projects, WSS custom lists, or QuickBase databases. Here's what Google says about Google Base content:

Post your items on Google. Google Base is Google’s database into which you can add all types of content. We’ll host your content and make it searchable online for free.

Examples of items you can find in Google Base: • Description of your party planning service • Articles on current events from your website • Listing of your used car for sale • Database of protein structures

You can describe any item you post with attributes, which will help people find it when they search Google Base. In fact, based on the relevance of your items, they may also be included in the main Google search index and other Google products like Froogle and Google Local.

There's no question that Google Base represents a serious competitive threat to QuickBase, CraigsList, eBay, newspaper classifieds, and—potentially—an online version of Access delivered as an Internet service, WSS reincarnated as an Internet "services platform," or both.
PBS—not InfoWorld—columnist Robert X. Cringely discusses Google Base in his November 17, 2005 piece, "Google-Mart: Sam Walton Taught Google More About How to Dominate the Internet Than Microsoft Ever Did":
With the advent of widespread GoogleBase (again a bit-schlepping app that can be used in a thousand ways -- most of them not even envisioned by Google) there's suddenly a new kind of marketplace for data with everything a transaction in the most literal sense as Google takes over the role of trusted third-party info-escrow agent for all world business. That's the goal. ... Microsoft can't compete. Yahoo probably can't compete. Sun and IBM are like remora, along for the ride. And what does it all cost, maybe $1 billion? That's less than Microsoft spends on legal settlements each year.
Salesforce.com and "Intelligent Reaction" Ozzie mentions Salesforce.com in the same sentence as QuickBase when he implores Microsoft executives to "... jump-start an effort that could dramatically surpass offerings from Quick[B]ase to Salesforce.com." It's an interesting coincidence that Adam Bosworth, who was responsible for designing and delivering Access 1.x, is Google's Engineering VP and, according to ZDNet's Dan Farber, a "long-time friend" of Salesforce.com. Farber's "Bosworth: Intelligent reaction, not intelligent design" blog entry summarizes Salesforce.com's (and Google's) approach to incremental application development and contrasts it with (by implication Microsoft's) ponderous "five-year plans" that reek of "state socialism" in application and API design. Bosworth mentioned in his recorded presentation to Salesforce.com's September 2005 Dreamforce developer's conference that only 20% of Microsoft's original use models for Access turned out to be correct. Bosworth implied that lack of early user input and reaction to use models was responsible for Access 1.0 taking two years to release. No matter what apps Microsoft offers in its initial Office Live beta, user input from frequent Community Technical Previews might prevent the generally poor marks assigned to the Windows Live beta by many initial users. Ray Ozzie would have done well to recommend—or demand—that all Microsoft "Executive Staff and direct reports" listen to Bosworth's "Intelligent Reaction" presentation. Conclusion Ozzie's omission of references to other, more popular Microsoft Office members—Outlook, Word, and Excel (PowerPoint gets a peripheral mention)—and his emphasis on Access and SharePoint indicates to me that an on-line database or list manager with an Access or SharePoint-like front end might be one of Office Live's first offerings. Let me know in the comments what apps you believe are in store for the Office Live beta. Questions of the day: Would you—or your organization—entrust Microsoft or Google with your business data? Would it be worth encrypting your confidential data to gain the benefits of software as a service (SaaS)? --rj

P.S. [Updated 11/13/2005] Read Chris Church's comment (1) for more insight on Ray Ozzie's reference to "forms-based applications" and the future of Office Live. Chris concludes:

I expect Microsoft will continue to beef up the InfoPath and SharePoint connection, and continue to add forms and form-like capabilities to SharePoint itself, while on another front begin providing problem/process specific mini-solutions in Access. By leveraging what customers already have they can continue corralling the market while they improve process management, workflow, and content management functionality. I think the amalgamation of much of this will debut in a very limited form in Office Live. Or, I could be wrong (grin).

Technorati: Other Links: PBS columnist Robert X. Cringely's "Its Deja Vu All Over Again: We've Seen Microsoft's New Live Strategy Before" article has an iteresting take on the press conference and "Paper War: Microsoft Is Leaking Internal Documents to Make Us Think They Have a Plan" lambastes the memo and message. Mini-Microsoft takes on the Live! demo fiasco and offers links to other "interesting blog posts" about the event. eWeek's John Pallato weighs in with an op-ed piece, "Microsoft Memos Reveal On-Demand Anxiety," David Coursey claims "Microsoft 'Live Era' Meets Dead Air" and asks "What Can Ray Ozzie Achieve in Redmond?", and Darryl K. Taft claims "Microsoft's Strategy Memos Don't Tell All," citing several well-respected industry analysts who agree. InfoWorld's Ephraim Schwarts says "Microsoft is Stuck on the C: Drive: Despite its new service offerings, Redmond will have a hard time transitioning from the desktop software model." Vnunet.com's Tom Sanders reports that "Google Base goes far beyond an Ebay competitor" and quotes Gartner VP, Whit Andrews: "If it were me, I would be creating an online database such that that online database could feed other online applications." Forrester's Charlene Li unexpectedly gives Microsoft's SaaS press conference the high-five and expects Google to tie Blogger and Google Groups into Google Base. You can read an official Intuit blog about new QuickBase features in the upcoming Fall Release.