OK, I’m going to geek out for a minute here.
I don’t particularly care for Internet Explorer or Outlook. It’s not a matter of hating Microsoft’s ill-gotten monopoly so much as I really don’t care for their feature set. I’ve worked with GroupWise as a full PIM/Groupware it whomps Outlook’s keister all over the playground. I switched to Firefox a while ago and if you’re reading this you probably already realized how much it kicks IE’s tail. However, I also work in a very corporate world and am completely shackled to IE and Outlook, which causes me no end of frustration.
With my last job, working in the smaller-business sector, I experienced some frustration because of the many products we used that wrote only for Outlook and/or IE. Now that I’m on the corporate software side, I get frustrated because we’re even MORE shackled by the legions of businesses that use those standards, almost forcing our hands. And it all comes down to 1 word: interoperability.
In my mind, I haven’t generally considered Microsoft products to be a shining example of ‘playing well with others’ — however, when you control most of the interfaces and basic software (OSes, document production, PIMs, browsers, etc.), you automatically LOOK more friendly automatically without even trying. On top of that, if your architecture is rife with holes and security issues, it’s easy to use those holes to ‘hook’ other software into your own. So we end up with this nasty cyclic pattern:
1. Developer programs new software to interface with Microsoft products for reasons including: a) heavy marketing from Microsoft, b) ease of hooking into the software, c) easiest to program for maximum interoperability for existing users, increasing customer base.
2. Users wants developer software bad enough that they make sure to use Microsoft products for complete functionality.
3. Microsoft product usage goes up as people switch to inferior products to get 3rd party software.
4. Decreased market share weakens competing software, making it harder for them to develop interoperability solutions.
5. More Developers go to 1. because of 3. and 4.
I hate it. I really do. But as a business consumer, how can I justify buying a product that, despite its better functionality in its limited scope, drastically limits my options for functionality through integration and interoperability with other products I need? And as a developer, how can I justify the time and money into full development of integrations with products that represent such a small market share, particularly when those products are often much more difficult to develop for?
Firefox has made a serious dent because it appeals to so many different levels of consumers. But IE will have an iron grip on most corporate users because of intranet and other internal functions that need integration with 3rd party products that have been too hard-coded towards IE. I know many of my daily work functions are now browser-based, and I HAVE to use IE for them because that’s the way they were coded.
PIMs, however, make me extra sad because they are so deeply rooted in corporate structure. Many people in a work environment live in their PIM — e-mail, calendar, task lists, etc. Integration with this piece of software is therefore vital and incredibly common, and I fear GroupWise is being driven from the playing field, and I can’t fully blame Microsoft, because if Novell had been able to make Groupwise easier to integrate with it, they might have had a chance.
So when Bill Gates says that Microsoft has goals of greater interoperability, be afraid. Be very afraid. In this world, being the best isn’t what it takes to win. It just takes the slightly better ‘ease of integrating’ and ‘commonality of use’ to win the lowest common denominator card and teeter that market over the edge.