Location: United States

A New Yorker relocated to Florida. I have fifteen years in the IT industry, with stints in product management, database management, application programming... I've been a CIO, a consultant, a software evangelist... one of these days I'll write up a proper profile.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Is MS ready to embrace web 2.0? and is Vista/Internet Explorer 7 a good platform for running web 2.0 apps?

In thinking about Vista I've thought about how Windows 95 was introduced a decade ago, and how shortly afterwards everyone realized that Microsoft hadn't understood the growing importance of the Internet during the entire period it had been developing Windows 95. Microsoft has changed a great deal during those years and I'm convinced they won't allow themselves to be blindsided again.

We still need to ask if we are in a similar situation now with Vista and Web 2.0. I've tried to write down a few things we might measure to answer these questions as the Vista beta progresses.

First of all, though I think a lot of my readers know about Web 2.0, since it's often not much more than a vaque concept, I'd like to describe what many, including myself, think of as its defining characteristics. A good starting point is a long and thoughtful article that Tim O'Reilly wrote last September, called What Is Web 2.0? In particular, I'm impressed with the "Web 2.0 Meme Map" in that article. At first I thought it looked like a refugee from a Madison Avenue presentation deck (been there, done that!), but it's amazingly concise and well drawn.

Another important source for the definition of Web 2.0 is Tim Berners-Lee. Probably the best way to understand his vision is to read his blog He tends to write short installments which are often quite startling because rather than a just a blog full of comments, he often presents very interesting suggestions for Web 2.0 features. I can only hope this blog will grow into a source of such ideas. To find more of his Web 2.0 ideas in a single location, try the "Semantic Web Roadmap" article.

Between these two eminent authorities, I summarize the characteristics of Web 2.0 as follows:

  • Letting users decide instead of dictating to them, i.e., collaboration and constant refinement by the users. This can be seen in the evolution of web apps based on user feedback. Google appears to be eminently good at harvesting user suggestions, allowing third party development, and incorporating user feedback in their very long beta cycles for products such as Google Maps.
  • Harnessing local resources instead of centralized servers. Any P2P or AJAX application illustrates this. In particular, an application such as Skype or Bittorrent, which distributes servers among the users and which supports multiple platforms. I think it's significant that the most widely distributed P2P apps focus on media.
  • Syndication and structured tagging of data that allows programmatic access and queries. That is the basis of the semantic web as Berners-Lee sees it. Most importantly, this vision opens the possiblity of adding a level of comprehension far and above the text search and link count in a Google search, i.e., data that identifies itself, making searches more intelligent.

So what would a Web 2.0-friendly operating system look like? Well, it's not exactly a thin client, not if there's a lot of local processing involved, so thin competition probably doesn't threaten Windows. A Web 2.0-friendly operating system must be secure (i.e., users won't want to expose personal data), if they're possibly going to be P2P servers. And files must be organized, both to store the data it downloads from feeds and other sources, and to present data where the user allows. (I've admired the way that iTunes automatically creates order out of the typical MP3/AC3 chaos most music lovers have in their file systems!)

When I first started planning this entry, I thought, gee, I've found so many positive things to say about Vista so far, I hate to turn to an area where Microsoft has been traditionally so weak. My first impression (and I think a lot of other people may have the same impression) of Vista was that it seemed to be half Microsoft responding to the business community's concern with the historical insecurity of Windows, and half catching up to Apple in appeal to home users.

Adding an RSS Feed in Internet Explorer 7
Once past that first impression, the focus on organizing documents apart from the traditional file system hierarchy, the ability to query those documents via structured queries and the stress on security play right to the Web 2.0. You can add to that the following:

  • The first apparent willingness to make it easier to connect to software services outside Microsoft (e.g., the RSS support in IE7).
  • Some of the document synchronization (e.g., PC to PC) that is being built in may appears to me to mimic the sharing between systems and devices that iTunes does so well.
  • The Windows Live effort may turn out to be something that threatens MS Terminal Server and promotes user mobility; perhaps not even tieing the user to a Windows PC.
  • The .NET Framework may not be the underpinning of Windows Vista that it was originally foreseen to be, but I think it's significant that Microsoft has not yet crushed the Mono project. I for one expected Mono to be gone by now.

Obviously, there are many, many more points to cover on this topic, and perhaps we'll return to it in the future.

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