As the Age of Ozzie begins at Microsoft, the pundits are already abuzz about how the Redmond-based behemoth might retool its business to more effectively compete with the likes of Google. The leading view is that Microsoft will move steadily toward a model based on "software plus services," bolstering its packaged software with value-added online services and selling the whole shebang at subscription rates.
At $69.99 per year, a two-year subscription to Microsoft Equipt is still slightly less expensive than a boxed version of Office Home and Student edition, which retails for $149.95. And Equipt throws in Windows Live OneCare for free.
The new initiatives pertain not only to Office 2007's new Open XML file formats, but to the earlier, binary-only Office document formats, as well. Mostly they involve documentation -- thousands of pages of technical documentation, designed to allow third-party developers to more easily read and write Microsoft's file formats -- but they also include actual translation software, as well. Can Microsoft really be turning over a new leaf?
First, Microsoft has issued technical documentation describing proprietary Microsoft protocols used in Office 2007, Exchange Server 2007, and SharePoint Server 2007. This is big news, because third-party software developers have long had difficulty interoperating with these products. Linux users, in particular, have never had a way to connect with SharePoint Server.
The field of commercial relational database vendors is a lot less crowded than it used to be, and it's no surprise, considering the players have to contend with a massive software juggernaut like Oracle. According to the latest numbers from research firm IDC, Oracle still ruled the roost in databases in 2007, capturing in excess of 44 percent of the overall market.
Not even Oracle can afford to rest on its laurels, however; not when the database market remains this competitive. In addition to pressure from the other two top proprietary vendors -- IBM and Microsoft -- Oracle must contend with increasing competition from open source software. For example, last week Sun Microsystems, which acquired MySQL in January, announced an aggressive new pricing structure that allows customers to install as many instances of the open source database as they want, including enterprise-class service and support, for a single, flat rate.
Included in the deal is Sun's GlassFish Java application server, which can be used to host custom enterprise applications that store their data in the database. Pricing reportedly begins at US$65,000 per year and scales up based on the number of employees in the organization. (Sun already uses similar, headcount-based pricing for much of its software portfolio.)
Is that spin I smell? Despite earlier rumors to the contrary,Microsoft seems now to be standing firm behind a 2010 release date for the next-generation version of Windows, currently known as Windows 7. Nobody is being too specific just yet, but a letter sent by Microsoft senior vice president Bill Veghte reiterated that the new OS would ship "approximately three years after the January 2007 general availability launch date of Windows Vista."
The really amazing part, however, is Veghte's explanation for the date. "You have told us you want a more regular, predictable Windows release schedule," he writes. Ask and ye shall receive -- but I wonder, exactly how does Microsoft plan to pull that one off?
Has anyone forgotten how we arrived at the January 2007 release date for Vista to begin with? In early 2006, we were told that it would be out "by year's end." Then came the rumors that Microsoft might have to scale back the release to meet its deadline. Features were being dropped. After a long period of speculation, Microsoft admitted that it would be unable to ship even a less-ambitious product on schedule. Vista was pushed back to 2007, and some analysts wondered whether the software giant would even be able to salvage it by then.
One of the more interesting third-party efforts, however, is the "portable version" of Firefox 3.0 from PortableApps.com, which shipped the same day as the main branch. Portable, in this context, doesn't mean that the code runs on multiple operating systems -- the Firefox developers have taken care of that already. Instead, it literally means that you can take this version of Firefox anywhere. All you need is a CD-R, a digital memory card, or a USB keychain drive to store it on.
Ordinarily, when you install an application onto your hard drive it puts its files all over the place. Configurations files go here, databases go there, bookmarks get stored someplace else, and you can't very easily move them around. Once installed, that application is effectively tied to that one computer.