Platforms Beat Applications

Just about every time Microsoft has bested a rival, it has been because they played the platform card. With a platform, Microsoft was able to eliminate even the most dominant applications. For example, Windows, the platform, allowed Microsoft to displace Lotus 1-2-3 with Excel, WordPerfect with Word, and Netscape Navigator with Internet Explorer.

But now Microsoft is fighting a different battle. The clash isn't between a platform and an application, but between two platforms, each with a radically different business model. On the one side, there is a single software provider, Microsoft, whose massive installed base and tightly integrated operating system and APIs give control over the programming paradigm. On the other side, there's a system, the Internet, without an owner, tied together by a set of protocols, open standards, and agreements for cooperation.

Windows represents the best example of proprietary control via software APIs every created. But companies, such as Apache, which held to the open standards of the web, has prospered despite Microsoft's efforts. The battle is no longer unequal, a platform versus a single application, but platform versus platform, with the question being which platform, and more profoundly, which architecture, and which business model, is better suited to the opportunity ahead.

Windows was a brilliant solution to the problems of the early PC era because it leveled the playing field for application developers, solving a host of problems that had previously hindered the industry. The question now is whether a single monolithic approach, controlled by a single vendor, is still a solution or has it become a problem?

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