What is the platform?

When I was at Microsoft, the prevailing internal assumption was that:
1) Platforms were great because they were “black holes” meaning that the more functionality they had, the more they sucked in users and the more users they had the more functionality they sucked in and so, it was a virtuous cycle.
2) To get this functionality, they had to be as extensible as possible so that extensibility, not ease of development was the priority for the API’s.
3) Since the rest of us often found aforesaid API’s complex/arcane, and since the rest of us built the “apps” that the corporations used, there needed to be a layer above the API’s called a Framework which hid the complexity and provided a kindler simpler gentler programming paradigm. (Think VB or MFC)
4) If everyone who could code could use this Framework, then they would build a plethora of applications locked into the platform and, hey presto, “stickiness”. Thus building an IDE and a Framework was the sine qua non of a platform even if it lost tons of money.

Today, I wonder if this set of syllogisms about the platform is still true (if it ever was). Open Source has shown us that well understood software can and will be commoditized. The operating system has been. The Web server has been. The Applications Server (to the extent folks need it) has been and more message buses are being written in open source. The entire XML processing stack is open source. So the value in “well understood” software today is in the support, not the code. The community that forms around open source software seems quite up to the job of educating itself. The real value in my opinion has moved from the software to the information and the community. Amazon connects you to books, movies, and so on. eBay connects you to goodness knows how many willing sellers of specific goods. Google connects you to information and dispensers of goods and services. In every case, the push is for better and more timely access both to information and to people. I cannot, for the life of me, see how Longhorn or Avalon or even Indigo help one little bit in this value chain.

My mother never complains that she needs a better client for Amazon. Instead, her interest is in better community tools, better book lists, easier ways to see the book lists, more trust in the reviewers, librarian discussions since she is a librarian, and so on.

The platform of this decade isn’t going to be around controlling hardware resources and rich UI. Nor do I think you’re going to be able to charge for the platform per se. Instead, it is going to be around access to community, collaboration, and content. And it is going to be mass market in the way that the web is mass market, in the way that the iPod is mass market, in the way that a TV is mass market. Which means I think that it is going to be around services, not around boxes. I postulate, still, that 95% of the UI required for this world will be delivered over the browser for the same reason that we all still use a steering wheel in a car or have stayed with << >> for so long. Everybody gets it. But this will, by definition, be an open platform because the main value it has is in delivering information and communication. Notice that the big players, Amazon, eBay, and Google have already opened up their information through Web API’s. It is Open Data coupled with Open Communication built on top of Open Source that will drive the future, not Longhorn.

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