Clarify the vision

A few months ago, Microsoft gave Windows 2000 (Win2K) a new tag line: The Business Internet Starts Here. From what I can tell, "the business Internet" and Microsoft's previous marketing buzz phrase, "Digital Nervous System," both describe the same four components: e-commerce, knowledge management, infrastructure, and line-of-business (LOB) applications. Apparently, Microsoft is searching for a phrase that describes these components and that will be as compelling as the catch phrase IBM has been using for years: e-business.

If Microsoft is branding Win2K as the starting point for the business Internet, the strategy underlying this phrase must be pretty important. But when you click The Business Internet on Microsoft's home page, you find very little information about Microsoft's strategy. The only information I could put together is that the business Internet is a bunch of technology, and if you assemble it correctly, you obtain some value related to the Internet. Wow! That vague conclusion doesn't convey much of a strategic vision for the future.

Contradictory Messages
Bill Gates used to fire up the Microsoft troops by focusing everyone on one strategic goal. Is Gates still communicating a unified vision? Well, I don't see a clear vision in the business Internet tag line. Nor is Gates communicating a unified message when he speaks to the public: In one speech, Gates says the Win2K enterprise OS launch is the most important launch in Microsoft's history. But in another speech, he says Microsoft's biggest competitor is Sony (i.e., PlayStation2). Either I'm missing something and a Windows CE-based game console fits into the enterprise picture, or the priorities in these two speeches are contradictory.

Windows 2000 Reality
If Win2K as the starting point of the business Internet is really the vision for Microsoft's future, Gates needs only point to the reality of his new OS. Win2K offers a lot for building an e-commerce infrastructure. First, Windows 2000 Web Services (formerly Internet Information Server—IIS—5.0) includes major improvements over IIS 4.0 in performance, security, reliability, manageability, and development. Second, the combination of Web Services, SQL Server, and load balancing makes for a very scalable Web-based application platform.

Microsoft desperately needs to communicate this reality. Many dot-com startup companies are buying Sun Microsystems and Oracle e-commerce solutions. These dot-coms seem willing to spend 10 times as much for these solutions as they would spend on a Microsoft solution. They believe that Sun and Oracle, which have a proven track record on big-name e-commerce sites, will give them the e-commerce advantage they need. Microsoft also has a proven track record on big-name e-commerce sites, but the company hasn't done a good job of touting its successes here.

However, Microsoft still has some work to do before Win2K can truly be the platform for the business Internet. How does Microsoft intend to win the Business to Business (B2B) e-commerce market, which is supposed to hit $119 billion by next year? Microsoft's Commercial Internet System (MCIS) 2.5 provides mail, news, chat, and membership services—stuff you need for a consumer Web site. But where's integration with the back-end database, B2B transactions, supply-chain management, EDI, trend analysis, and B2B co-marketing? In fact, Microsoft provides many of these requirements through its Windows Distributed interNet Applications (Windows DNA) platform for developers, but if you're not a developer, you probably haven't heard much about Windows DNA.

A Reason to Rally
Whether Microsoft realizes it or not, the company's lack of vision penetrates into the market. Our readers' letters show that people are confused about Microsoft's position. Many readers tell us that they're not planning to migrate to Win2K for a while because they don't understand the business benefits of migrating. Windows 2000 Magazine can explain the technical and strategic aspects of migrating, but readers want Microsoft to give them a reason to rally around Win2K. In contrast, Linux enthusiasts can rally around the vision that open source will change the world of computing. Win2K might be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but how will it change the world?

I'd like to see a more original vision from Gates. However, if "Windows 2000: The Business Internet Starts Here" is Microsoft's vision, the company had better give that vision better definition and more substance. If Microsoft fails to communicate this vision, the perceived tag line might be "Nervous About the Internet."