In my October Windows IT Pro magazine column, I wrote about Microsoft's strategy to position its products as end-to-end solutions such as Unified Communications (UC) and Business Intelligence (BI), to name just two examples. The UC platform incorporates Exchange Server and Outlook client, the new Office Communications Server and Communicator client, along with VoIP and mobility. The BI platform starts with SQL Server on the back end and extends through Office components such as Excel, SharePoint, and now Performance Point on the front end. My point was that I think Microsoft is positioning itself to compete with Software as a Service (SaaS) and rivals such as Google by offering more than a single piece of the puzzle. Unlike its competitors, Microsoft can provide not only an entire platform such as UC or BI and encompassing both software and services (Software + Services), but only Microsoft can also integrate the management infrastructure to go with the platforms (e.g., the System Center family and Powershell). The platform strategy takes advantage of existing Microsoft products and skill sets that are already in place in organizations, which makes businesses think twice before trying to introduce non-Microsoft components -- in theory, anyway.
I asked readers for their perspectives on this topic, and I got a very thoughtful response from Nate McAlmond. Nate goes to the heart of Microsoft's impetus for the platform strategy: creating new software products that add value for IT but that also give Microsoft new revenue streams. When a company like Microsoft has a market-dominating product like Office, how does that company keep the Office revenue stream from stagnating? It sells new server and client products to introduce new functionality to use with the the existing products.
I think Nate's points are dead on target. Hey, Microsoft, here's what Nate wrote:
In the past, the two main options were Exchange and SQL, and companies built on those platforms. Now Microsoft is offering more and more specialized products with a very impressive list of capabilities. It gives customers such a head start to where they want to be. Once I can make some time I really am looking forward to exploring how we can use PerformancePoint at my company to increase efficiency.
I do wish that I didn't have to add more servers to keep the same functionality that I already have. For example we use a lot of InfoPath forms at my company that are automatically submitted via email to public folders and individuals in Exchange. While some processes could probably benefit from something like SharePoint or PerformancePoint, I expect that in a lot of cases it won't really matter. But since there will be no more public folders in Exchange, I now will have a SharePoint server that is required to accomplish the same tasks as \[I accomplished without SharePoint\] before.
This brings me to another point. I really don't like having a new desktop client for each new server they come out with. It seems like with each new server, there is a new client to be installed, updated, upgraded, training, troubleshoot \[and so on\].
SharePoint is an excellent platform for building the client interface to all of the Microsoft server systems. Unless it's a standalone application like Word, \[Microsoft's\] emphasis should be on using SharePoint for the client in all cases. There should be a module to replace Outlook, Communicator, Project, \[and so on\]. If \[Microsoft is\] going to make SharePoint the console, then do it 100%. Sprinkling it around with different clients is not the right choice. Besides, how can you have 'Unified Messaging' when you have two separate clients?
So I guess what I'd say to Microsoft is this:

  1. Don't remove functionality from existing server systems unless it's really not being used by the user community.
  2. It's OK to add servers if it will give companies additional functionality.
  3. Build SharePoint into a centralized console before you try forcing customers into it. In fact make SharePoint so good that it doesn't take any convincing.

I really think that if Microsoft did this they wouldn't have anything to worry about from Google or anyone else.