Well, certainly this week our friends at Microsoft (and Netscape) have been in the news, as the antitrust trial gets underway. Let’s say you, as an IS decision maker concerned about your own job-safety, allow (or mandate) your systems people to construct your internal web-based applications using everything Microsoft. Your web pages are made on NT running IIS with ASP, and use Visual Basic scripts on both browser and server. You write all of this using Visual InterDev as the toolkit, and of course you stick with the Microsoft-flavor dynamic HTML and maybe XML with the Microsoft XMS extensions. Your systems people want to use all the cool ActiveX widgets and some data-mapped form fields at the browser end. So you decide to use only Internet Explorer inside the company as the sole supported browser to view all these pages.
You think: why worry about any standards? It’s an INTRANET! And you want your systems people (and you) to deliver the richest, coolest stuff in the shortest time. Of course! Oh, and maybe you dictated that the Microsoft stuff is the “company standard” in order to reduce acquisition and support costs.
Now think a moment to where you were back in 1982? You probably were running lots of IBM stuff.
One day, your boss (or even the CEO) says: “Connect us with our customers! I want our customers to have access to their order status, account information, and our own contact people. This must go way beyond an online store. We’re going to do one-to-one marketing here, and since we’re already web based, this should be EASY, right?” The CEO might issue similar orders relating to vendors.
Oh no! Your customers have various browsers out there and some of them won’t display the pages your people developed. You issue orders to develop “browser agnostic” web pages. And now those pesky IETF and W3C standards get in the way! Your systems people start gasping for air because it means the loss of some coolness, and worse, some drudge-type work. Or maybe you decide to develop a whole parallel set of pages for outsiders and maintain both. And who’s gonna pay for this?
So you go back to the CEO and ask for more money. He blows his stack and asks why the hell we can’t use what we have! It’s the WEB, for heaven’s sake. “Um… well, it really isn’t the web, boss, it’s the Microsoft Web® and it’s … better!” So the CEO relents and makes a mental note of this screwup….
But wait, there’s more! Your systems people have been using InterDev and/or FrontPage and don’t know much about HTML, cascading style sheets, form formatting, table layout etc. They have been isolated from the “ugly, low level” standard languages and technologies and have been using the Microsoft web development tools. Those tools cost a lot of money, but they saved even more in labor, eh? Not any more. Well, for some more money you can use more Microsoft technology to develop browser-agnostic pages. But what does that mean? And who’s going to fix a problem with Opera or Netscape? Someone has to know about those pesky standards and be familiar enough to deal with them. More time, more money. Are you going to go back to the CEO again? Was your “the safe thing is to go with Microsoft” decision really safe?
I haven’t even MENTIONED the issue of portability at the server end. You are of course locked into Microsoft technology in your shop. Yesterdays “IBM shop” is todays “Microsoft Shop”. Remember how hard we tried to keep Compaq from becoming the “approved standard” for PCs in the mid 1980s?
By now you should have a fairly tight feeling in the pit of your stomach. So here it is:
- Are you willing to bet that Microsoft is going to corner the Internet worldwide? Will it really be “safe” to go with the Microsoft Web®?
- Are you willing to bet that Microsoft won’t drop the hammer and start charging big time for products that today are free or nearly so? If your answers to (1) and (2) are yes, then go for it. Personally, I think history has proven over and over again that once a company has a lock on a market, product quality and innovation decline, and prices rise. Are you going to be part of the problem or part of the solution?