Bing(o) or B(or)ing?

Lots of developments recently for Microsoft-watchers to get their teeth into. I’ve not picked up the individual announcements here, because lots of other people do it; but it’s time for a round up.

So the most recent announcement is Microsoft’s at-long-last deal with Yahoo! which will move Microsoft’s Bing search technology into Yahoo’s space. Subject to regulatory approval it might go live next year.

Well I haven’t seriously tried Bing, so this isn’t a technical evaluation. But for a business analysis of the potential impact of the deal (or lack of it), there’s an interesting discussion on Knowledge@Wharton. In brief, they suggest, the real target of Bing wasn’t Google but precisely to achieve the kind of deal now done with Yahoo. And that the impact on market share will be negligible despite the marketing deals. People like Google. And perhaps that the smaller deal will “invite less anti-trust scrutiny” than last year’s proposal to swallow Yahoo entire.

There’s a joint website called “Choice. Value. Innovation”, set up as if it were a fully fledged independent company with “Investor Relations” and “Press Room”. Draw your own conclusions.

What else? BOPS of course; Microsoft’s Business Online Productivity Suite. The “Standard” package capitalises on existing brands (or tweaks them to work outside the office perimeter): Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, and Office Communications Online.

So BOPS It doesn’t occupy the same space as Google Docs or other offerings like ThinkFree (who I visited with a study tour to Silicon Valley in 2006 and, I must admit, didn’t think they’d still be here by now). It does overlap Google Wave, which I reviewed recently. Gizmodo reports that Office 2010 Web apps will be free; Office Live, Windows Live and Azure exist. Either we can believe that Microsoft is still playing catch-up, when there’s so much technology already out there that’s integrated and works; or we can see the pattern of a lot of pieces about to come together and create something really powerful

Microsoft still owns the business IT mindset. Gartner quote a case study with a headlinecollaboration cost reduction of 20% So what do you think?

• Microsoft-Yahoo a Yawn for Google, Knowledge@Wharton, 29 Jul 2009
Microsoft, Yahoo! Change Search Landscape, Microsoft Press Pass, 29 Jul 2009, featuring videos from both Ballmer of Microsoft and Bartz of Yahoo!
Choice, Value. Innovation.
Business Productivity Online Standard Suite, Microsoft
Move to Microsoft BPOS Cuts Collaboration Costs by 20%, Gartner, 9 Jul 2009 (client access only to full document)
Microsoft Office 2010 Web Apps Will Be Free; Testing Starts Today, Gizmodo, 13 Jul 2009
• Microsoft Windows Live
• Microsoft Office Live and Office Live Small Business Edition
• Microsoft Windows Azure

Microsoft’s Elop: clouds and the practical vision

Knowledge@Wharton recently carried an interview with Stephen Elop, who was hired from Adobe a year ago as head of Microsoft’s Business Division. This follows on from his keynote at the recent Wharton Business Technology Conference. The video and transcript are available on

It’s worth a read, and I’m not going to precis it here. But quite a lot of the interview is about where Microsoft is going with its office products – that’s a small "o" to give it the wider sense. Elop looks after Office of course, but also the extended collaboration tools (the unified communications offering and SharePoint), ERP, CRM and more.

There are two interpenetrating strands. First: Elop makes a strong differentiation between integration and interoperability. Too much integration between their own products, of  course, and they fall foul of the anti-trust watchdogs. But he expands on the way Microsoft has published interface specifications for many of its products, and works with other standards too. Open Document Format, for example, will be readable by the new Office suite. And he gives a case study of Apple’s iPhone which, using a combination of published interface specifations and some Microsoft patents, is now a viable and registered client for Exchange email.

Second: there are, in effect, three linked approaches to Office software. Elop is clear that there will always be the long-established rich client versions, and there will be a need for them. He claims that if Microsoft removed the ten least used features of Office they would get 25 million complaints – though I wondered how they know! We know, too, about Windows Live and Office Live: the cloud-style offerings. Then there will be a third version, which I interpret as being Office Lite to run in a browser. Elop envisages this as being used for lightweight reading and editing, perhaps from within an email environment, with the full featured Office application being used for final polishing.

Microsoft is trying not to have these seen as alternatives, but as related differently-oriented versions of a single approach. It makes sense and it might just be a reason for the next upgrade (that’s from XP, for most of us!)

Some of us saw Microsoft turn the company on a sixpence (on a dime, if you’re in the US, or a 5p if you’re not old enough to remember the sixpence) when they “got” the Internet. Their migration to an understanding of “open” is taking longer but, even without Bill Gates, they may well be getting it right for the marketplace. Follow the links, and decide what you think. Comments welcome.

Oh, and the “clouds” bit? Not just about cloud-based services, but Elop is a qualified pilot. So he really does have his head in the clouds, sometimes!

• Flying High: Microsoft’s Stephen Elop Balances Future Vision with Present-day Realities. Knowledge@Wharton, 18 Mar 2009
• Future Unleashed: the Wharton Business Technology Conference, Philadelphia, Feb 2009
• Stephen Elop: Wharton Business Technology Conference, Microsoft, 27 Feb 2009 (transcript, preceded by the Dean’s welcome, and Silverlight vide0)

Next generation browsers: can IE catch up with Facebook?

MIT’s Technology Review recently carried a review of some of the new features trailed for Microsoft’s IE8 ,and for others in beta in Firefox. It looks like Microsoft are picking up on the trend for people to write their own add-on apps (in this case called Activities) which are well used in applications such as LinkedIn, Facebook and The review focusses on Activities, and doesn’t discuss other potential enhancements in 8. For example, says the review, Microsoft links a slew of Activities to its own email, blogging and news services. Of course, these pre-written Activities link to Microsoft’s own services (e.g. Hotmail) but the API is open, and anyone can write one and publish it.

Firefox 3 has been out in beta for a while now (anyone using it? Give us a comment on your experience). Its enhancements are in a different direction, enhancing bookmark management and providing a level of offline support. This might resonate in the enterprise, where the move from replicated collaborative services (such as Lotus Notes) to browser-based applications killed off the ability to easily take your application with you on your laptop.

Take a look!


Review: New Microsoft browser eases Web sharing, use of multiple services Technology Review, 19 Mar 2008
IE8 Beta on
Firefox 3 Beta 4 Release Notes from Mozilla, 10 Mar 2008, with links to download (in 40 languages)
Mozilla Developer News (look for links to the Firefox 3 programme)

Microsoft’s new New England research lab

It may seem odd that it’s taken Microsoft so long to decide they should have one of their network of academic-linked research facilities in Cambridge, Mass. Not surprisingly, it’s located very close to MIT!

Microsoft’s own Research website, and MIT’s Technology Review, both profile the new lab (I tagged the TR report in while I got round to writing this piece). I’ve visited Microsoft’s lab in Cambridge, England, which like the new lab is close to an academic faculty but not part of it.

Jennifer Chayes, who will head the new lab, says that the work there will aim “to break through barriers between core computer science and social sciences, and to do fundamental research that can lead to deeper insights and better computing experiences in an increasingly online world”. MIT’s renowned Media Lab has many research projects in this overlap area, and the computer scientists at CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence) and the Sloan Management School’s IT-related business research groups will also without doubt be key links for the new lab.

Microsoft’s website doesn’t yet list the research areas for the new lab in more detail, but her interview in TR gives some pointers. You wouldn’t think that phase transitions in physical systems – and I used to teach those to geologists! – would relate to IT problems, but read the interview and figure out how it matches to resource allocation problems such as multicasting, social networking and recommendation systems.

Microsoft values its researchers as researchers; but what they do has a habit of turning into valuable sources of revenue! The Lab opens in July. Watch this space.

Applying Theory at Microsoft MIT Technology Review, 21 Feb 2008
Microsoft Research New England’s Focus: Research Relationships (Microsoft Research website)
MIT Media Lab
MIT Sloan School Research Centers

Microsoft and Yahoo! – or will Google step in?

The news of Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo! broke in the Saturday papers, and there’s a mass of coverage. It’s worth collecting some of the initial comments. Both companies spread wide, and some people – and companies – will find themselves buying services from Microsoft when, perhaps, they deliberately chose not to. In the UK, for example, a lot of broadband internet is supplied by a BT/Yahoo! joint offering so there’s an immediate potential impact there.

Google certainly think it’s worth reacting to. They fielded David Drummond, Senior Vice President, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer; and he immediately raises the spectre of Microsoft’s “legacy of serious legal and regulatory offenses” to encourage regulators, and consumers, to sit up and take notice. And to position Google as the champion of the open internet.

In business terms, does it make sense? What have Yahoo! got that Microsoft haven’t? The Guardian tagged the bid as and admission of failure by Microsoft and an attempt to “buy its way into the 21st Century”. Microsoft, it says, maintained its dominance of desktop and office software; but Google ate its lunch in search and, along with the open source movement, is making inroads into the applications market. Yahoo! dominated search until Google came along, but is there any way that pooling Yahoo! and Microsoft’s resources would magically create a Google-beater here? There’s analysis of this one from The Observer (that’s The Guardian‘s Sunday sister) and one interesting quote is from a financial analyst who says “We see Google as a search business, but it is a media company that makes all its money from advertising”. Would the combine challenge Google in this space? Adding their two market shares doesn’t win, and mergers don’t create new ideas automatically. But it’s perhaps a better indicator of why Microsoft’s made the move, and where it thinks the IT business is going. And of a shift in the media business too.

Forrester’s Charlene Li blogs about this in Groundswell and about the way both companies need to play catch-up in social computing.. She looks at the jewels in a potential combined portfolio: Flickr and, Microsoft’s investment in Facebook, and so on. She raises the possibility of Yahoo! selling Google its search advertising to defend itself (remember this is a hostile bid), raising the cash to stay otherwise independent. Google did this kind of deal with MySpace.

This isn’t an enterprise IT-oriented merger bid; indeed Computerworld‘s reaction is that it might distract Microsoft from the enterprise’s primary business with Microsoft which is precisely desktop and office software. It’s about the social web, advertising and media. But if (when) social networking finally gets adopted by enterprises – Faceforce, the link between and Facebook, is a straw in the wind – then there would be an impact there too. As Charlene puts it, “people go where their friends are”. There’s a lot more comment out there, as you’d expect; no substitute for going looking for yourself – no doubt via your favourite search engine …


Yahoo! and the future of the Internet Official Google Blog, 3 Feb 2008

Microsoft tries to buy way into 21st century The Guardian expert comment, 2 Feb 2008; alternatively, go to the homepage at and search Yahoo Microsoft

Microsoft’s bid for Yahoo!: What it meansCharlene Li, Groundswell, 1 Feb 2008

Would a Microsoft-Yahoo deal out Google Google? Computerworld, 1 Feb 2008

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