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Internet Explorer: Microsoft's dilemma

In a previous post, I explained why I think that Firefox does not stand a chance against Microsoft Explorer. I won't comment on some hysterical reactions to this post of some open source extremists who accused me of all things - their excess and insults only undermine the "cause" they serve. Despite this, an interesting discussion was launched and I take comfort to see that some Web sites also question Firefox's potential ability to dislodge Explorer. To sum up, my reasoning is that Firefox, despite its qualities, is not a radical improvement over Explorer. MIcrosoft hasn't improved Explorer for years, secure in its monopoly after the Netscape battle. But as a result of the new pressure created by Firefox, it will only take a big effort from Microsoft - something they're expert at - to catch up and introduce a new release that offers security, stability and ease of use. As a result, Firefox's advantage will be reduced if not suppressed. Devoted open source militant will not switch back to Explorer for sure, but how many are they? Based on this I ventured to conclude that Firefox would not succeed against Explorer, except in some niches. Having said that, Microsoft faces an interesting dilemma with Explorer, and the future of Firefox might well depend on how the Redmond firm will solve it...

The future of Internet Explorer can indeed be seen in two ways:
- either Microsoft considers that Explorer is a product by itself, in which case there should be a multi-platform strategy with versions for other platforms than Windows, such as Linux, Unix, and Macintosh.
- or Microsoft sees Explorer as part of Windows, in which case only a version for Windows will be available.
Hence the dilemma: in the first case, Microsoft, after the introduction of a new, vastly improved IE7, regains the advantage over Firefox, and leverages its multiplatform approach to (re)claim the universality of its dominance. On Linux, one can be sceptical of its success, but that might be different on the Mac, despite the fact that Apple now has its own browser. With this approach, Microsoft accepts that Windows comes second in its strategy, and adopts an Internet Explorer strategy per se. That is something, however, that the company has always refused to do.
In the second case, Microsoft focuses on Windows at the expense of Explorer. That is the position that the company has always defended, claiming that Explorer is an integral part of the operating system. In this case, Microsoft leaves the door open to competitors on other platforms. This choice carries big risks, because then Firefox becomes the only browser available on all platforms, and a completely multiplatform product has great appeal on the market. Having said that, it is also very complex to maintain, as Netscape's experience has shown. Maintaining this strategy will be a challenge for the already challenged Mozilla foundation.
This Microsoft debate is not new, in fact. This battle raged inside the company between 1997 and 2000, as told by journalist David Bank in his 2001 book "Breaking Windows". Bank reveals the bitter  fight between the Windows "hawks" and the Internet "doves", supporting an opening of the Microsof products to non-Windows platforms. Eventually, the hawks prevailed and the doves disbanded.
But the story doesn't end there, because Firefox forces Microsoft to reopen the debate. Beating Firefox on Windows shouldn't be too difficult: except for die-hard open source militants, Windows users will have no qualms switching back to Explorer when a new, decent version is available. The question is whether Microsoft will want to extend the battle beyond Windows onto other platforms, where the situation is less favorable. I tend to think they wil go for the All-Windows strategy, because it's what they've donc in the past, and because I find it difficult to imagine a Linux version of Explorer. Would they? Interesting to note that the same question can be asked about the Office suite of application.
Having said all this, the browser does not have the strategic importance it had back in 1997. At that time, Netscape's ambition was to replace the operating system's interface with the browser's, something that was sure to trigger Microsoft's wrath.  But that didn't happen, and the browser is now just a regular application, albeit an important one, and the OS's interface still prevails. With this in mind, is it so important whether the user browses with Firefox or Explorer? Probably not, even from Microsoft's point of view. As long as its core Windows business is not threatened, the stakes for Microsoft are not so high. In that sense, the hopes that Firefox will undermine Microsoft's domination are probably misplaced: the fight is big, popular and exciting, but the stakes are low.

Posted by Philippe Silberzahn on March 29, 2005 at 08:00 AM in Op-ed | Permalink | Comments (1)

"What it takes to innovate"

Fortune magazine last issue (March 7th, 2005) is dedicated to "The world's most admired companies". Fortune took the opportunity to ask Hay Group to conduct a special survey on innovation. Hay Group polled 160 companies on the subject of innovation, which is one of the nine attributes on which the world's most admired companies rankings are based.

The three best rated companies on the innovation topic are :

  • FedEx
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Alcoa

"Innovation is not something you can simply invoke or turn on or off" says Hays Group vice president Mel Stark. Hays study suggests instead it takes a stable environment made of discipline and organisation.

Full article can be read at : www.fortune.com/fortune/mostadmired/articles/0,15114,1032462,00.html

Posted by Bernard Buisson on March 9, 2005 at 08:00 AM in Article reviews | Permalink | Comments (1)

Jeff Raskin, father of the Mac, is dead

A minute of silence for Jeff Raskin, who invented the original concept of the Macintosh in 1979, and died last saturday. Raskin is an important guy, and not just for sentimental reasons linked to the Macintosh cult. Raskin is the typical lonely innovator fighting the bureaucracy and the politics that kill so many innovations, even in a young company like Apple in 1979. Raskin's original idea for the Mac was to build a $500 computer. A very easy to use computer, at a very low cost, using a graphical user interface, a revolutionary concept at the time; but Raskin was no stranger to revolution in technology. His 1967 thesis was about something called Quick Draw, a graphical view of computer screens, which would be the cornerstone of the Mac graphical user interface seventeen years later.

Raskin started the Macintosh project despite strong opposition from... Steve Jobs, who later on also opposed the laser writer project, but Raskin held on and managed to lead the effort in a semi-clandestine way for three years. He ended up leaving Apple, though, in 1982, totally disillusioned. A Silicon Valley legend has it that Jobs, when he visited the Xerox labs, "discovered" the graphical user interface. Xerox people were apparently impressed by Jobs' quick grasp of the new concepts that were presented to him. It is now known that Raskin had been promoting the same ideas within Apple for years at that time, so it was not difficult for Jobs to appear so smart on the subject. Back to his office, Jobs changed his mind on the Mac project, understanding its strategic value. So he fired Raskin and took over the project, abandoning the cheap computer concept to go for a high-end computer. This is a good illustration of the old saying that those who start revolutions usually are not the ones who finish them: they are killed before. This is also true somteimes for innovation.
If you want to know more about the creation of the Mac, you can read the fascinating story told by Raskin here: http://mxmora.best.vwh.net/JefRaskin.html. This is not exactly what you'll find on the official Apple history...

Posted by Philippe Silberzahn on March 4, 2005 at 08:00 AM in In the news | Permalink | Comments (0)

Startups: The Next Wave

An interesting data from Business Week: half the startups funded during the 1999-2000 period are still alive! Half of them! So contrary to what many believe, this period wasn't all wasted time and money, but allowed for the launch of real businesses. Now that the burst of the bubble is behind them, it's take-off time. Of course, everybody talk about Google, the poster child of this period, but behind Google are a host of smaller players that are lining up for the IPOs in 2005 and 2006. Future stars are called TellMe Networks (voice application software), Vonage (Voice over IP), as well as Force10 Networks, Peribit Networks, and Calix in network equipment; of course the security business is hot and startups such as Fortinet, CipherTrust, and ArcSight are thriving. This "surviving" rate illustrates the old VC saying that the best startups are built during the bear market.
Read the BW article: http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/05_10/b3923117_mz020.htm

Posted by Philippe Silberzahn on March 2, 2005 at 08:00 AM in Article reviews | Permalink | Comments (0)