Break the Microsoft Monopoly on the Web

Break the Microsoft Monopoly on the Web Browser and Everything else will follow.

Now why would IT users and vendors want to a)take on Microsoft and b)try to break the Microsoft monopoly on the Web? Lets examine the latter issue first. What monopoly ? LAMP owns 70% of the Web Servers worldwide. Java owns 60%++ of the application server and enterprise integration servers (think EAI, BPM, EII, ECM, SCM, MAP,etc). SQL Server has less than 20% of the database market. What monopoly ?

The IE browser 80% market share monopoly. Oops excuse me … every Web analytics firm is giving IE 85% or more, why are you saying 80%? Because my websites browser share totals, based on nearly 1,000,000,000 hits per month, have been a leading indicator of where the Web Analytics firms are going to be in about 1 1/2 months time. And I am currently seeing IE at about 80% of the market. And 80% of the market is still a dominating monopoly share.

Dominating enough such that:
1)Microsoft did not see fit to put in the new Visual Studio 2005 any stick to Web standards switch that would allow users to do what they can in rival products like Macromedia Dreamweaver or Adobe GoLive, etc. The Web Standards switch in these products, makes certain that all the features used in a Web page design or application will work with a cross platform set of browsers. And given that Apple, Konqueror, Mozilla, Opera and most other browser vendors are rapidly converging on the W3C standards that leaves one vendor, Redmond, dragging its feet.
2)Dragging them such that Microsoft appears to think that a set of “just good enough” new functionality (tabs and new security add-ons) and minimum standards improvements in IE 7 (not full CSS, failure to meet the ACID2 sets of tests by a large margin while most other browser vendors meet those compliance tests and standards) will allow Microsoft to deliver FallShort IE7. FallShort IE7 will have no DOM rationalizations, no JavaScript 2.0 nor E4X support, no SVG nor XForms support, missing both full PNG and JPEG2000 despite movement to most of these standards by many of its rival browsers.
Microsoft is already claiming they do not have enough resources to do such a drastic rewrite. $40B of your and my money in the Redmond bank and they do not have enough resources? (LOL LOL LOL).

Look what happened when the IIS Web Server was a security mess in early 2000. Even Redmond brags that they turned that puppy around in less than a year with a complete rewrite. When the IE team says not enough resources, read that as top management has decided “just good enough” will suffice because in their heart of hearts – Microsoft still regards the Web as Enemy No. 1.

Microsoft to the World: The Web is Enemy No. 1

Wait a second, Microsoft sees the Web as Enemy No. 1? What about ASP (proprietary, proprietary, proprietary), Web Services (had to, had to, had to), SharePoint and BizTalk Server 2006 (deep Windows Services dependencies, deep Windows Services dependencies, deep Windows Services dependencies) and Live(keeping up with the Googles, keeping up with the Googles, keeping up with the Googles – otherwise never would have done it, never would have done it, never would have done it). You cant possibly dismiss the business press that has credited Microsoft with rising like a Phoenix from being terribly behind Netscape and others only to dominate the Web market in 3 years time.

Sure I can. Given breakneck development work that set in place a wave of security and reliability bombs within IE, IIS and other Microsoft Web and desktop software and given predatory practices that wiped out Netscape and set Java vendor Sun on its heels, Microsoft did wrest control of the Web space. And that control was vested with 90%++ market share for “perpetually free” IE and 30% for “perpetually free” IIS (Note to readers – “perpetually” in Microsoft-speak is about 2-3 years. IIS is now the major feature differentiator between $90 street price Windows XP Home and $220 street price Windows XP Professional. Not convinced? Check if you can find a free download of “perpetually free” IIS anywhere on Microsofts website).

The full price of switching to Microsoft was soon to be paid first by end users with a wave of reliability and security problems with IIS and IE that have continued to this day. Microsoft also paid a cool $4 billion to AOL, Sun, and others for legal damages incurred while securing its monopoly position (a bargain at double the price). So with vigorous work that has developed some very good and some very bad “Web” software(besides the reliability and security problems, Microsoft Web wares are distinctly non-standard and/or low interoperability and/or highly proprietary “Web” applications), Microsoft is a major Web player. But lets look how well the Web has prospered under Microsofts Browser-based Dominant Stewardship.

From 1999-2003, not too bad other than the great wave of security breeches courtesy of IIS, Windows NT, and Windows 2000 Server. From 2000 through 2005, another nearly simultaneous series of virus and worm attacks on the desktop taking advantage of IEs weaknesses such as ActiveX , widespread use of privileged admin state, buffer overflows and simply failing to batten the hatches. From 2003 to 2004, SQL Server then falls victim to the same series of batten the hatches, buffer overflow and other security problems to help wreak havoc on the Net once again. Three strikes and your out ? Nope – apparently you, dear readers and 80% IE users, are very forgiving.

To reward your loyalty, from 2002 to present, the Web has become a security nightmare – virus attacks, spyware, phishing, spam at 80% of email content. And no concerted action because all the players distrust what Microsoft may do – using security to sell Vista and Windows Servers at their expense. As well Microsoft has not updated the IE Web browser for anything other than security fixes. No new technologies, no fulfilling of 7 year old “we will meet all W3C Web standards” promises, no ease of use features.

And because no new technologies have been adopted in IE, promising Web functionality such as XForms, SVG, XUL, JPEG2000, and many others have started to wither. But also to add insult to injury, Microsoft makes developers pay a price in extra coding effort to make Web applications cross platform/cross browser. Web coders have to spend anywhere from 15-30% of their time in DHTML, CSS, Forms, and JavaScript making the code work because now only Microsoft is non-standard. Many IT shops are not willing to pay this price and so they develop for IE exclusively. And Microsoft has relied on that to keep IE vested in its dominant share position. People cant easily move away from some Web applications because they only work in IE. Hence the go slow on meeting Web standards in IE7. Is this enlightened stewardship of the Web ? Bill has done a much better job of giving away his money.

But lets be explicit. Since the days of Windows 3.1, Microsoft has taken a “we develop for Windows only” approach to its software. They flaunt it as a key competitive advantage. We dont have to waste resources developing for other platforms. Microsoft has never developed for OS2 (other than before they betrayed IBM), Unix, Linux. The only exception has been Mac. That approach has now morphed into “it runs best in Windows” mode where “Windows” means the PC Windows and mobile-Windows clients linked ever more tightly to the serverside lineup of Windows Services( hence deep Windows Services dependencies, deep Windows Services dependencies, deep Windows Services dependencies) .

Now there is nothing wrong with this approach. Microsoft is clearly saying to the IT marketplace – we will develop “just good enough” to some very good applications (but look carefully at their record, Redmond is often not the leaders in new features and “third time is charm” has been necessary to get MS systems close to competitive in working functionality) and operating systems for client, mobile, server. If you choose to buy Microsoft, you know that these programs will work together best if you stay within the Windows family. Now given Redmonds mixed if not downright sporadic record on relability, security, scalability, lowest cost, best service – this party is definitely from Missouri on the preceding assertion of “works together best”. Whatever the case, Microsoft is saying to customers ->” We want and will try try try again until we achieve 80-90% market share in every one of the PC client, mobile and server markets. We need our monopoly pricing to allow us to try try try again – while others go belly up – Tough ship.”. This is called Software Assurance for Microsoft.

But clearly this “it must run best in Windows” cannot afford to have outstanding non-Windows products. Even more so Microsoft cannot afford to have those products integrating and interoperating easily and effectively with Windows products and services. And more than ever before that integrating software is coming from the Web.So for Microsoft, the Web is Enemy No. 1. But the converse is also true, Microsoft is Enemy No.1 of the Web – hence all the stalling on IE7, the dropoff of support for XML including the battle over OpenDocument vs OpenXML, and an ever more restrictive set of Web Service offerings. As it turns out, this Microsoft intransigence is the carrot for action by IT users.

The Carrot

At the outset, we asked why take on Microsoft over IE? The carrot for many IT shops big and small is the upcoming Web 2, SOA architectures, and SaaS-Software as a Service. All of these architectures and IT directions are designed for 2 major goals:
1)Integration and maximum interoperability. The problem killing businesses today are continuing silos of information and the lack of agility in moving to new configurations and uses of existing systems. Web2, SOA, and SaaS are designed to attack these interoperability and integration problems.
2)Increase re-use and lower costs of systems especially in responding to spikes or change in demand. Again Web 2, SOA, and SaaS are designed to deliver on these goals.
Now IT organizations have made no bones they want to move towards Web 2 et alia. But can they afford to make such a move with Microsoft still controlling 80% of browser share – and therefore capable of inflicting great damage on Web 2, SOA and SaaS by delaying, polluting, ignoring, or extending to deep proprietary couplings various Web standards? The current Microsoft dictates are: no SVG, no SMIL, no XPath 2, likely not all of WSI, XAML instead of XUL, and so on.

What IT vendors and organizations have to appreciate is Microsofts power to dictate Web standards and outcomes derives fromMicrosofts control of 80% of the browser market. Change Microsofts dominance of the browser market and you change the whole equation of Microsofts ability to dictate if, how and how fast Web 2, SOA, and SaaS evolve. Whats is even more compelling – even after IE7 comes out, the choice of any of the other popular browsers – Firefox, Opera Safari – is still distinctly better than IE7. In sum, there has never been a better time to switch out of the IE browser.

What You Can Do

First and foremost individuals, businesses and governments can demand more of Microsoft particularly in the arena of interoperability. Microsoft has allways pledged that when numbers warrant, it will implement a IT standard. The numbers warrant for these:
1)Java with the latest version of the Sun JVM should be distributed with the Microsoft desktop line of OS and servers like it is with most other competitive OS;
2)IE7 meets its 1997 commitments to implement W3C standards for HTML, CSS, DOM completely. The WaSP ACID2 are the first set of compliance benchmarks. Meanwhile, Microsoft is overdue on Web standards such as SVG, XForms, JavaScript 2.0 and E4X to speak nothing on DOM rationalization, XPath2 compliance etc;
3)Visual Studio and all Microsoft development tools should have a “stick to standards” switch that would ensure that all Web and other development standards are adhered to – issuing a warning statement/highlight for any code that breaches standards. Also the switch would actively gray out any menus and commands that would generate non-compliant code. This is not mission impossible as Adobe, Macromedia and others already deliver such capabilities in GoLive, Dreamweaver, etc;
4)Microsoft gives users a choice in Office applications – they can choose to store any Office file in ODF format;
Theseare not unreasonable demands because a)they are quite doable by Microsoft and b)they have already been done by major ISVs like Apple, IBM, Oracle SAP and others where applicable.

Second, by the simple choice of switching browsers, the key to Microsofts monoply hold on development can be broken. Look at the ongoing security problems with IE – 2 1/2 years after Trustworthy Computing was set as the Microsoft gold standard. Next consider how easy it is to do personally – just a 5MB and 2 minute download at 52KB Mozilla or or Opera . And the install process is faster than the download. And even after IE7 comes out, your Firefox or Opera browser will still have superior download control, safer and a growing array of extensions, plus in general more features and better security along with a record of faster security fixes than IE. So make the move to a new browser , your choice…. you cant lose; but Microsoft surely can lose its hold on you.

Finally, exercise your leverage. Software Assurance is coming up on a desktop OS in Vista and Office Suite requring organizations to upgrade more than half their PCs and at stiff new learning cost for both systems (in Microsoft-speak that is known as “People Ready”) – think rationally about those costs and commitments to a Software Assurance policy that has been identified at Computerworld as Oblivious to Customers. Think like Information Week, maybe its time to Kick the Microsoft Habit.

(c)JBSurveyer 2006

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