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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Micro-content vs the Microsoft hairball  

via Steve Gillmor
. . . Oddly, Redmond seems blinded to the reality of the new Web operating system, where technologies such as RSS are pushing the marketplace toward small XML fragments called micro-content and away from bulky Word documents. . . . Luckily for Redmond, office suite competitors such as Lotus and Novell imploded at the same time. Even now, Sun's OpenOffice has cloned the Microsoft hairball rather than producing micro-content objects that could be stitched together to create the same kind of rich compound documents. In a micro-content world, business documents are broken down into their constituent elements: notification, transaction, context, priority and lifetime. IM traffic, Weblog posts, breaking news, appointments, alerts and good old e-mail comprise a dominant percentage of micro-content traffic. Managing the real-time flow of information becomes Job One, followed closely by archiving and publishing snapshots of the data as "documents." The traditional productivity applications become rendering engines for various end-stage documents. Word produces spell-checked, formatted pages; Excel produces reports, charts and graphs; PowerPoint produces presentations. In its current incarnation, Outlook renders messages. FrontPage—well, FrontPage is being sunsetted by Weblog-authoring tools. To be sure, Microsoft can take comfort in its strategy of waiting for the competition to do the R&D and then swooping in when the market is primed. Micro-content authoring tools are in their infancy, held back by the lack of resources in mom-and-pop RSS aggregator shops. . . . As RSS information routers reach the critical mass of persistent, searchable storage, feed-tunable preferences, embedded browser rendering, and attention data mining, the motivation to store data in licensed document silos will flatline. Remember: Microsoft is competing in the micro-content space with the one non-renewable resource: time. Nowhere in the real-time space does it have dominant market share—not in IM, not in RSS, not in search. If it places its chips on Word, it's competing not just against micro-content, but against its own installed base. There are some signs that Gates gets it: hiring Wiki inventor Ward Cunningham, incorporating some OneNote technology into the next Mac Office release and even floating a rumor that he will start an internal blog. But Longhorn still reminds me of the Las Vegas skyline, where objects appear a lot closer than they really are.

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