You may not like it, but Microsoft technology IS some of the best going
I recently happened upon a Computerworld blog article asking “Is Apple morphing into the Microsoft of smartphones?“, highlighting their use with the iPhone of the same sort of anti-competitive practices that Microsoft got in so much trouble for in the past with some of their products. The article immediately attracted the ire of a legion of Apple apologists in the comments, but it was one of the least inflammatory parts of the article that struck a chord with me:
“The irony of it all hit me yesterday as I was deciding how to move music from my PC to my Pre, given that iTunes syncing has been turned off. And my first stop was Microsoft’s Windows Media Player, which does indeed sync natively with Palm’s Pre.
That’s right. I was turning to Microsoft to solve a problem with a proprietary, closed data exchange format.”
I found this interesting because I recently encountered something similar myself. After finishing the deployment of my new Exchange 2010 server at work, I invited the Deputy Head to test the Exchange ActiveSync synchronisation with his iPhone. “I’ve tried,” came the response, “but as I already have an account running through Exchange it won’t let me add another.”
I expressed surprise that he was already using an Exchange account, and was duly informed in return that the iPhone synchronisation with GMail uses Exchange ActiveSync to communicate – and therein lies the delicious irony. We have two products, the Apple iPhone and Google’s GMail, both from companies considered arch-nemeses of Microsoft, and yet the best (and supported) method for getting them to talk to each other is via a Microsoft protocol. This differs from the Computerworld example in one significant way: Exchange ActiveSync is itself a proprietary data exchange format – both Apple and Google have licensed the technology for their products. Would they have done so if an equally capable open standard was available? Probably not. It could be argued this is simply a case of customer demand driving an otherwise uncomfortable decision by Apple and Google, but I doubt so many customers would demand that support if it wasn’t the best thing going.
Like it or not, Microsoft put out some very good technology, just as Apple and Google do. Microsoft may be regarded by many as a popular hate figure, but sooner or later those espousing such opinions will have to realise that Microsoft products are easily a match for their competition, and the Apple’s business practices in particular have a lot in common with Microsoft’s. The only real difference is that Apple have far superior marketing; or as it’s called in politics: spin.