I am really excited about the new Silverlight technology released by Microsoft. If you remember what Java applet technology (to a lesser extent) promised all those years ago and never really delivered, well – this is a much bigger promise. I think it has a great chance of succeeding because of the .NET momentum and Microsoft developer tools and community.
When we talk about Microsoft, many people (including those in technology like me) tend to forget that Microsoft is, at its roots, not really a product company. Although it makes a lot of money off the Windows operating system and Office suite, it is fundamentally a development tools company, something that started with the original Microsoft BASIC compiler. And that is what brings in the revenue for the rest of the product line.
Here is a metaphor to explain this. Let us say that you want to renovate your house. Say, there are several companies selling housing material. But 90% of the contractors you talk to only want to buy products from company A, even though the products cost more or they doesn’t look as great as the products from another company. When you ask them, they say that company A provides all the necessary tools and support. Their tools only work with their products, but they make the job much easier and risk-free. Here, the end user is not the decision maker; the application creator is.
Microsoft sells or gives away great development tools for every product they build. Even programming novices can create useful programs. Think Visual Basic. Think about how quickly a copycat language like C# is able to steal developers away from the mature Java language and establish itself as one of the foremost programming languages on the market.
There is all this talk about Microsoft vs Google, which I think is rubbish. Like Microsoft, Google has a core which is related to search intelligence, findability and relevance. Every successful Google product (Search, Adwords, Gmail, News) has these core attributes. For example, Gmail would be just another Yahoo! Mail wannabe if it didn’t have email grouping, amazing fast search and tagging.
Each can succeed by leveraging its core competency. In my view, each company has several untapped markets it can service by tapping into its strength. For example, Microsoft has not made significant inroads into the Ruby/Python developer tool space. Google is still expanding into video search – is podcast search the next thing on the horizon?