Microsoft vs Monolithic platforms

· by Steve · Read in about 3 min · (578 Words)

I’ve done far too much Microsoft bashing than is really fair lately, but this made me laugh today because it was just so beautifully ironic. The application platform group manager at Microsoft, was quoted in ZDnet today as saying how dedication to a single legacy platform (SAP, Unix) reduced the flexibility of IT departments. And I assume he said that with a straight face.

Today’s de-facto standard is tomorrow’s restrictive legacy platform. I’ve seen one de-facto standard (mainframe software) come and go, and Microsoft platforms today are absolutely no different to how they were then. It has the same lock-in, the same platform dependence, the same single point of control, the same preference from service suppliers. How can they claim they’re any different? In the interview his entire argument seems to be that Unix is ‘old’ and Microsoft is ‘new’. Ah, I see - so the difference is really just that most customers haven’t realised how badly they’re getting roped in yet 😀Let’s just wait for the cycle to repeat shall we? From where I sit it’s like watching an old movie all over again, just with different actors and better special effects.

So many IT departments buy Microsoft products for just about everything, most of the time without even considering the practical alternatives. Mail servers, file servers, web servers and database servers  are so ridiculously commotitised these days I have absolutely no idea why so many small companies think buying Exchange, SQL Server et al is cost effective - although I suspect that it has a lot to do with ignorance of the alternatives and the incentives that local suppliers have to sell Microsoft products. Microsoft and their supporters (the IT service suppliers) are operating in precisely the same way the proprietary Unix guys did years ago, it really isn’t any different. You go to them because that’s where the apps are, the solution providers push it because that’s where their skills are and it’s where the most obvious income stream is. It doesn’t matter that in quite a lot of cases, there are alternatives that could be more cost effective for the customer, the ‘de facto’ rule has no exceptions. This is no brave new world - perhaps we’ll never escape this vicious cycle (although open source has provided more viable alternatives than there have been before, if only more IT suppliers would actually consider them) but it’s simply ludicrous for MS to claim that they’re not repeating history.

*Edit: this is the phrase I find particularly ironic:

“Bets made in the past constrain [IT departments],” said Dunstan. “We talk a lot about agility and wanting to respond in business but, when a company needs [an application], the IT department is more or less saying: “No, it doesn’t fit with our strategy” …

… which is precisely the response I have seen given on more than one occasion for shooting down cheaper, innovative, more flexible solutions (open source or otherwise) in favour of using Microsoft products, even if they’re inferior or even need redeveloping from scratch (see all the .Net projects around the net reinventing stuff other systems have had for years).

The point he appears to make here is “Long term supplier lock-ins create inflexibility and lack of responsiveness to business challenges.”. Which I absolutely agree with, it’s the point I repeatedly make against excessive single-supplier preference on this blog. But then he goes on: “Oh, unless that supplier is Microsoft, then it’s cool.”. Hilarious.