The Ties That Bind

The Ties That Bind

Mary Jo Foley

The software landscape has changed so much in the past couple of years that the terms “bundling” and “Chinese Wall” are no longer the loaded words they once were.

But the shift doesn’t mean Microsoft is retreating from its campaign to get customers to deploy all Microsoft products, all the time, across all devices. Far from it.

As will become clearer on April 24 when it launches its next Windows release, Microsoft is building everything but the kitchen sink into Windows Server 2003. (Microsoft isn’t the only operating-system vendor doing this. Sun Microsystems — which once cried foul over Microsoft’s server-bundling strategy — is currently on a nearly identical path with Solaris.)

Microsoft also is increasingly linking its Windows and its Visual Studio .Net tool suite releases. While the software juggernaut isn’t going so far as to embed Visual Studio in Windows, it is building Visual Studio hooks into Windows and other Microsoft products. The unspoken hope? Developers and users will take the path of least resistance and become all-Microsoft shops.

The next version of Visual Studio (code-named “Everett”) is due to ship on April 24, too. The following “Whidbey” Visual Studio release will hook into Microsoft’s forthcoming “Yukon” SQL Server release. And Redmond is promising that its “Longhorn” Visual Studio .Net release will be linked tightly to its “Longhorn” Windows release.

It’s not just on the operating-system front where Microsoft is tightening the ties that bind. When Microsoft ships Office 11 (a k a Office 2003) in June, it is expected to ship simultaneously its “Titanium” Exchange Server and its SharePoint Server 2.0 releases. One Microsoft integrator told me recently that the far-and-away most compelling reason to upgrade to Office 11 will be the tighter integration between Outlook 11 and Exchange Titanium.

This kind of deep integration can be a positive, if you are an all-Microsoft shop.

“I am a firm believer in what I call the ‘one throat to choke’ purchasing policy,” said another technology consultant. “If all products are from Microsoft, then when there is a compatibility issue, I can force them to stay on the line until it’s fixed. They can’t tell me it’s not their problem. … When I make a decision it is not always to get the ‘Best widget’, but it is always to get the ‘Best Widget that works with our other Widgets.'”

But if your company — like most — runs heterogeneous software from multiple vendors? Microsoft’s deep integration among its own products may call into question whether a third-party’s offering will work as well as Microsoft’s…or work at all.

David Stutz, a long-time champion of community and interoperability at Microsoft, resigned from the company earlier this month. Stutz outlined some of his reasons for leaving in a now infamous goodbye note.

“Microsoft is at risk…due to the corporate delusion that goes by many names: ‘better together,’ ‘unified platform,’ and ‘integrated software,'” Stutz warned. “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.”

What’s your take? Is Stutz right? Do the perils of increasingly deep integration outweigh the benefits for Microsoft and its customers? Write me at mswatch@ziffdavis.com and let me know what you think.

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Copyright © 2003 Ziff Davis Media Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally appearing in Microsoft Watch.