Since When Is Integration ‘Innovative’?

Since When Is Integration ‘Innovative’?

Mary Jo Foley

Thanks to the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust case against Microsoft, bundling has been relegated to four-letter-word status in Microsoft land. Execs with the software giant are careful to avoid speaking of Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player or Internet Information Server as separate technologies that just so happen to be “bundled” into Windows. Nope. They are inextricable Windows components, according to Microsoft.

After “bundling” was banned in Redmond, Microsoft launched its “Better Together” campaign. And these days we’ve got Better Together’s successor: “Integrated Innovation.”

Integrated innovation is shorthand for platform. Microsoft seems to be using it to refer to a stack of related technologies — such as Windows Server 2003, Automated Deployment Services, Rights Management Services. It also seemingly applies to cross platform integration — i.e., the integration between Windows Server System and Office System.

Integrated innovation’s got a nice ring to it. Even Microsoft archrival Sun Microsystems is extolling the benefits of an integrated software stack, with its Project Orion, a k a “Java Enterprise System” family.

Read More About Sun’s Integrated Stack Approach

The problem? You could argue that by integrating software, you are freeing up your customers’ time to innovate on top of the base stack. (Indeed, I already have heard a Sun official make this case). But tying your products together so as to lessen customer choice is not innovative.

Microsoft can (and will) argue that elements of its Windows Server System family are “layered services” that users can choose to implement or not. The same can be said of the seemingly endless parade of Office System and Mobile System family members. Just because Microsoft offers both Office 2003 and Live Communications Server 2003 as part of the Office System doesn’t mean customers are obliged to purchase both together.

But by making its own products interoperate more seamlessly — with supposedly simpler and cheaper licensing, deployment and maintenance when purchased and rolled out as a family — Microsoft is doing its best to obviate the need and/or desire for any third-party alternatives.

Integrated Innovation is not a fad. Microsoft’s new point man on Linux, Martin Taylor, has been playing up the message. And top Microsoft brass, from Chairman Gates on down, are tossing references to integrated innovation into nearly every speech. Microsoft will likely make Integrated Innovation a key theme of its Office System 2003 launch in October and its System Management Server 2003 rollout in November.

Bob Muglia’s Keynote at Microsoft’s IT Forum Show: “Integrated Innovation”

Read More on Linux Point Man Martin Taylor’s Thoughts on Integrated Innovation

And Server Chieftain Eric Rudder’s Two Cents

It’s a good time to go back and reflect on one former Microsoft exec’s warnings against integrated innovation. David Stutz, the former Mr. Rotor at Microsoft, had this to say in his goodbye note when he quit earlier this year:

“Any move towards cutting off alternatives by limiting interoperability or integration options would be fraught with danger, since it would enrage customers, accelerate the divergence of the open source platform, and have other undesirable results. Despite this, Microsoft is at risk of following this path, due to the corporate delusion that goes by many names: ‘better together,’ ‘unified platform,’ and ‘integrated software.’ There is false hope in Redmond that these outmoded approaches to software integration will attract and keep international markets, governments, academics, and most importantly, innovators, safely within the Microsoft sphere of influence. But they won’t.”

Revisit Stutz’s “Goodbye Microsoft” Letter Here

What’s your take? Are the benefits of vendor-provided integration wildly overrated? Or are you more than happy to buy your software as a preassembled desktop or server family from a single vendor?

Write me at mswatch@ziffdavis.com and let me know what you think.

Copyright © 2004 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Microsoft Watch.