AT A BLEAK TIME when other vendors are pulling in, laying off, and riding out the recession, Microsoft is partying like it's 1999. But not everybody is invited. If you're a Windows ISV (independent software vendor), you should make sure Microsoft hasn't written you out of the picture. If you're a Windows or Microsoft enterprise software competitor, it's time to shelve the strategy you've been using for the past two years to market against a humbled, rudderless Microsoft; that company no longer exists. If you're a current or potential Microsoft enterprise customer, you'd better brace for the hard sell in 2003 and a big spike in licensing costs.
By piecing together what Microsoft tells each of its constituencies, we can make some predictions about where Windows and the Windows server stack are going and how changes will affect customers and competitors.
Before 2002, Microsoft welcomed heterogeneous deployments, in part, because it knew its server software was not up to snuff. Windows 2000 was loaded with serious security and scalability problems, and the COM API was getting hammered by the cross-platform J2EE. Exchange Server had all but withered from inattention. SharePoint got little notice in the portal and collaboration markets. Commerce Server was eclipsed by IBM's WebSphere. ISA (Internet Security and Acceleration) Server failed to steal share from companies selling caching servers and firewalls. Microsoft's enterprise juggernaut had run aground.
Once Bill Gates got out of his way, Steve Ballmer and his most loyal officers quickly set about remaking Microsoft inside and out. Internal development and review procedures were completely overhauled to keep sloppy code from leaving the shop. Ballmer's "ass on the line" policy sets up a chain of accountability that runs from worker bee developers to vice presidents for every product. That took care of new software, but Microsoft also needed to polish up its existing product line. Ballmer's team figured out that Microsoft can't fight its enemies if it's wasting energy on infighting between groups. Turf squabbles were proscribed and everyone's focus was turned outward to real threats in the enterprise: Sun, IBM, and OSS (open-source software).
Microsoft's other enterprise foe is its own image. To turn this around, two parallel campaigns were launched. The technical mission revolves around security. Microsoft wants to shatter the presumption that Windows and its components are inherently vulnerable to attack. Programs such as "secure by default" and "secure by design" apply primarily to the Windows operating system, but secure coding paradigms are enforced throughout the product line.
The other campaign is to correct the company's infamous tendency to stay mum about its products' flaws. Microsoft's management, including Gates himself, has been dispatched to deliver a message: The remade company is willing to own up to its shortcomings and failures. Through candor, Microsoft hopes to engender the kind of forgiveness the public grants more sympathetic entities such as Apple and open source. However, that frankness does not necessarily extend to the accurate positioning of its enterprise software in the overall market.