Inevitable comparisons are made between the hugely enthusiastic developer response (including from us at Zoho) to Google Wave yesterday with the relatively tepid reponse to Microsoft’s new search engine Bing. The real interesting contrast to us, as independent software developers, is the way developers responded to Silverlight as opposed to the reaction yesterday to Google Wave. Both Silverlight and Wave are aimed at taking the internet experience to the next level. To be perfectly honest, Silverlight is a great piece of technology. Google Wave, as yet, is not much more than a concept and an announcement.
It is easy to dismiss all this with “Oh, the press just loves to hype everything Google, and loves to hate Microsoft,” but that cannot explain why even competitors like us are willing to embrace Google’s innovations, but stay away from perfectly good innovations from Microsoft, such as Silverlight?
It comes down to one word: karma. Microsoft just has so much bad karma in this industry that I cannot imagine a company like us trusting them on much of anything. Take Silverlight: Microsoft pledged that they will always support Silverlight on Mac and Linux, and on browsers other than IE. Do you really, really believe their promise? Let’s recap some ancient history here: Microsoft used to have IE for Solaris and even had a beta of IE for Linux. That was when IE was way behind Netscape and was trying to catch up. Once Netscape was safely vanquished, Microsoft’s commitment to support IE on other platforms vanished. In fact, Microsoft intentionally pulled IE on other platforms, because it was clear to them that making the web experience suck on other platforms was a way to keep Windows firmly entrenched. I am glad they adopted that strategy, because that strategy eventually paved the way for Firefox (and Safari and Chrome …), and together those browsers have rendered the operating system utterly irrelevant. Apple’s resurgence – based on design prowess, not platform dominance – and Vista’s failure, have demonstrated that convincingly.
What could Microsoft do to earn our trust? For starters, they could really support all the web standards on IE. IE is increasingly an embarrassment of a browser and a pain for developers to support. The only reason IE is making any progress at all is the competition from Firefox and Safari and Chrome. I know, IE was once known for web innovation, including AJAX – but that was the time Microsoft was really trying to catch up and beat Netscape. Fair or not, the impression independent developers get is that Microsoft would prefer the web to stay crippled, so pesky applications that challenge their cash cows can stay frozen as “online Wordpad”, as Bill Gates put it.
That brings us back to Google: today, it is Google which is driving web standards forward. That is why we at Zoho are firmly aligned with them, even if they are our primary competitor. We believe in an open web, there is plenty of opportunity for all of us. Could Google abuse its position? Well, I am sure they understand karma!