As a platform company at its heart, PDC is a great way to understand what Microsoft’s real strategies are. In addition to its focus on three trends that are popular overall (HTML5, mobile, and cloud), the specifics show some significant changes and enhancements to the the company’s strategy.
First, HTML5. Microsoft led off with this as the lead message for developers. If there was ever a huge change, it is here. Only a year ago Microsoft was very tentative about HTML5. Now it leads off PDC with it. Perhaps a bit overstated or futuristic, it showed charts espousing HTML5 across multiple devices including mobile and Xbox. Interesting in that it has not yet formally announced intent to support HTML5 on these devices yet. We’d already seen that Windows and IE9 have moved towards HTML5 in a big way. However, messages here at PDC signal that the company’s cross platform strategy is now HTML5, not Silverlight. Microsoft appears to have read the handwriting on the wall and seen that HTML5 is the future and that fighting it with Silverlight on the web is a losing battle and has therefore cut its losses.
Silverlight may be downplayed as a brand, but it remains a very strategic technology, forming the basis of the Windows Phone 7 platform and I think will likely play a role in Microsoft’s future desktop and tablet offerings. As for tablet, I believe Microsoft is delaying talking about its tablet strategy until it is clear if Windows Phone 7 is successful or not. If successful, I expect to see its strategy look and feel a lot like that (as most tablet strategies are leveraging touch technologies and apps across both). If it doesn’t succeed, well, lets just say that it wouldn’t be very good news for Microsoft in much more than the mobile phone space….
Second, mobile. Not that much totally new here that hasn’t been shared in detail over the past few months. However, PDC provided a good showcase for the new Windows Phone 7 platform and its free and excellent tools as access to data sources through odata. They showed some of the over 1000 apps available and announced an exclusive feature (Amazon Kindle store). Giving away phones to the developers was very popular and will help drive more apps. There was still no formal announcement of HTML5 support for mobile, but given the messages on HTML5, it is just a matter of time. Microsoft appears to be holding off as it is encouraging the native Silverlight development for now as its app catalog is just starting out.
Third, cloud. In Microsoft’s case that is of course Windows Azure and related pieces. For the first time, Microsoft has aggressively positioned Azure as PaaS. It is a legitimate use of the term, and as is often the case with Microsoft offerings, it doesn’t fit neatly into categories. Azure has many IaaS features and is primarily an OS. But OSes usually have platform capabilities. And Microsoft as a platform company is not surprisingly positioning it this way. What’s surprising is that it has not done so as strongly until recently.
Azure has had some success thus far, primarily with ISVs and small business. Not so much with enterprises. This will change as a result of some of the announcements at PDC. What they have needed are ‘onramps’ to the Azure cloud. In Microsoft’s case, their private cloud offerings do not provide this very well. Its Windows Azure Platform Appliance is not yet available and it is not clear who will be able to use this as a private cloud. Its System Center driven Windows Server virtualization offerings, while useful, don’t really provide much of a path to public cloud.
Two major features announced at PDC change this and provide those onramps. First, the long rumored best-kept secret of the VM role. This will enable existing Windows apps to run on Azure without reworking, a welcome feature for enterprises not ready to rewrite apps for the cloud. Second, is a multitenant container to be launched by the end of the year. Called the Appfabric container and composition model, it is significant for two reasons. First, as an onramp. Appfabric is meant as a way to write programs that span Windows Server and WIndows Azure. This is an onramp to the cloud for new apps. The other significance is that Microsoft is jumping into what some might call ‘real’ PaaS – a multitenant shared everything model. This in many ways will legitimize this approach as a major enterprise credible company has endorsed this approach, in contrast to Oracle’s recent snubbing of the concept.
So, big changes in web and cross platform strategy towards HTML5. Showcase of Windows Phone and the future of Silverlight as a native technology beyond phones. And some very welcome enhancements to its Azure cloud that will begin to solidify the company’s position as an emerging leader in cloud and drive enterprise interest. All in all, a pretty significant PDC.
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