Microsoft Misses a Trend

Living with PCs in the 1990s was a lot like living with mainframes in the 1960s. Just as in that earlier time you couldn’t go wrong buying IBM, so in the ’90s you could depend on Microsoft to scour the market for neat stuff and either buy it or build it by the time you needed it.

This happened repeatedly, in areas from compression to web surfing to page creation. How it happened was at the heart of the government’s antitrust case. But my point is that for a manager, knowing what Microsoft offered (or was about to offer) told you what you needed.

So it was a shock last week that, while doing a feature for Crain’s B2B magazine, I found a very important class of product that is needed but that Microsoft doesn’t have.

That something is web content management.

Today everyone’s contributing to your web effort, but you still need management approvals to push stuff in front of the firewall. You have all sorts of different file types to post online, from databases to spreadsheets to pictures, but you lack time to change every page when the company’s logo, web style, or ownership changes. You also need to have your web accessed by all sorts of new devices, like cell phones and PDAs, and can’t write a separate site for each one.

The solution is to separate the data on your site from its presentation. Approval processes and templates can all be written using XML and Java, which can be changed once and everywhere.

There are a ton of these tools out there, and you’ll just have to wait for my story to get a complete list. They come from big companies like Vignette and Interwoven, from smaller outfits like Top Floor and eBusiness Technologies, and from European companies like MediaSurface. I talked to an IBM executive who promised something Real Soon Now, probably before the end of the year.

You see who’s missing from that list?

That’s right: Microsoft is AWOL.

Oh, it launched a BizTalk server with great fanfare, and there was some fear expressed in the media it was about to take over the parsing of XML tags. But if you need a tool specifically for the key role of managing your web content, you’ve got to go somewhere else.

The cynic in me said, “This wouldn’t have happened if Bill Gates were still alive.” But, of course, he is still alive. The truth is, this wouldn’t have happened if he weren’t distracted.

The government has won its antitrust case in a way that can’t be overturned by courts. Microsoft has, in the last five years, become a giant bureaucracy that must respond slowly and carefully in all things. It can no longer move in Internet time.

Certainly it’s possible, even likely, that Microsoft will eventually build or buy something to fill the hole in its product line. But it will pay more for the market, and get less of it, than it would have before because the lawyers and flaks and bureaucrats have chained it as securely as the Lilliputians chained Gulliver.

So, my question is this: Joel Klein, you happy now?

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