I’m no Microsoft fan boy. In fact I don’t think there is anything like a “fan boy” when it comes to Microsoft products. I’m a recent iPhone convert and I curse the years I’ve had to put up with the clunky and often-buggy Windows for Mobile and PC.

It’s no secret that Microsoft is a poor internet company. Arguably it’s a great software company, but finds itself stuck in the dark ages when it comes to the web. For years, it’s been licking the dust of search behemoth Google, who has struck at the very heart of Microsoft by creating both online, and now-offline, competitors to Word and Excel in Google Docs. It probably won’t be long before we see Google launch a (more online-focused) Operating System to rival Windows?

World’s biggest dormant social network
But the Redmond company is holding a pretty big ace up its sleeve. An ace that it has yet to activate, probably due to its lack of internet prowess. In fact, Microsoft is sitting on the world’s biggest unconnected social network. It’s there, but it just hasn’t been powered up yet because the company is so far behind when it comes to online innovation.

I’m talking about the hundreds of contacts people have in Outlook, still the world’s dominant business email client. Outlook’s emails and contacts aren’t yet socially networked because it’s an old software model, built before the social networking craze.

My contacts in my Outlook don’t have any direct connection to the people whose data they represent, eg: an email address or a phone number. The data is isolated from the actual contact or recipient itself. It’s data that belongs to me and only me, rather than data that is shared.

Installing Outlook plugins like Plaxo give you a snapshot of what could be. However as an external application it’s unable to unlock the true social networking potential lurking under Outlook’s hood.

So, one day, when Microsoft gets it together, you could wake up to find yourself part of the world’s biggest social network ever. And your Outlook will be the window to it.

11 Responses to “Why Microsoft will eventually win on the web”
  1. Hey Fred…hmmm I hear what you are saying, but (to take your examples further) it’s like saying to Apple 15 years ago that its too late for them to compete in the OS market as they were driven out by MS.

    Companies can revive themselves, especially if they’re hungry, they have money and an iota of vision.

  2. Nice insight, but don’t you think that they may be a little late in the day?

    The next iteration of MS Office will probably be more like Google Docs, but it’s going to look a little steep compared to the free stuff – especially if someone like Mark Shuttleworth delivers “a user experience that can compete with Apple in two years” – http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/162

    People may have switched and settled in too comfortably for Microsoft to woo them back.

  3. Nice try there, but to think that Microsoft can dominate the Web with “Business” (i.e. Outlook) social connection, that is doubtful.

    Google has been utilizing its Gmail to create social community around it, and so far it is very successful.

    The other thing, Google is into Open Alliance with other social networks unlike Microsoft, which is arrogant enough to think it will take over the Internet by itself. Hence the word “InterNET”.

  4. Just spotted this, which articulates some similar thinking: http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/sviokla/2008/09/microsoft_outlook_a_social_net.html

  5. @Leon Jacobs — they’ll probably find a different way of running outlook. The PST file may not even exist anymore. Agree MS would need to provide compelling reasons for users.

    @Mike — you’ll be isolated, unconnected and safe then :-)

    @Andrew — well, if they launch it true MS style, we’ll be getting the blue screen of death on the net. Scary.

    @Wogan — good points. I do think however the future of a contact address book, is one that is “live”, ie socially networked — and I think this is what MS would look at. I forgot their earlier experimentation in Express… once again they were leaders, but a product of theirs failed to gain traction because it was poorly executed, like live desktop, like search etc etc

    @Darren — now that would be nice. To be honest, I think the idea is pretty obvious, but also fraught when you get into the detail of it.

  6. If they were smart, you’d be a on a plane over there to explain more about this. You’re not and they are behind, sadly.

    Some substantial hidden value here for them. Well spotted Matthew, be sure to demand royalties when they get it right :)

  7. Outlook? Or not.

    http://arstechnica.com/microsoft/news/2009/01/500000000-windows-live-users-on-hotmail-and-messenger.ars

    500 million Windows Live users. Live isn’t just MSN Messenger – it rolls up Hotmail, SkyDrive and Spaces, basically forming a social networking infrastructure, available before the new user even launches his browser for the first time.

    Plus, since Vista, MS put their Windows Live Essentials program – a suite of downloadable software, including things like Live Writer (desktop blogging app), Movie Maker, Photo Gallery, etc. And they integrate with Spaces very nicely.

    Finally, the MSN Passport system is finally bearing fruit. The idea of “one login for all services” apparently is quite popular, especially since the average home user is likely to get a @hotmail or @live account in order to make use of services like OneCare. And once you have a Passport, MS’s full suite becomes available to you.

    So I’d argue that Microsoft’s “ace” is well in play already. Every new PC that ships with Vista/Windows 7 is already preconfigured with every social networking tool the average user will need, and a whole lot of them end up using it.

    As for Outlook (Express) – it had MSN integration back in the days of version 6 (back in 2001). Set up your contacts properly, and you could see within Outlook whether they were online or not – and if they were, MSN Messenger was capable of IM, filesharing, collaborative whiteboard, and launching network applications like games.

    When in SA, it’s easy to make assumptions about the US populace, especially when it comes to things like Windows Live. We never use it, because it’s a foreign service, chews bandwidth, isn’t locally relevant … whatever. But to them, it’s a basic online commodity, probably something some of them couldn’t do without.

    So no, I doubt very much that MS is going to come up with a new way to connect Outlook contacts to a social network, since there are an nth number of services that do that already. Their biggest push now, imo, is getting platforms like Azure together:

    http://www.microsoft.com/azure/default.mspx

    Azure, in a nutshell, is an online OS that lets you build applications to run on Microsoft’s own cloud infrastructure. A little like Google Apps, you might argue, except that Azure supports a whole lot of languages that GApps doesn’t, plus it offers direct integration capabilities with Windows, still the most popular OS in the world by volume. And it can plug in to those 500 million users and their Live IDs.

    So granted, MS has been slow to the web, but like any beast, they’re slowly gaining momentum. Pretty soon, all the 3rd-party Free services we marvel about (stuff like Gmail, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Digg), will have equivalents on MS’s own infrastructure. Of this I doubt little.

    ~ Wogan

  8. Lets imagine how Microsoft would do this in their characteristic style,

    A New Update for Outllook arrives, install it and…

    “Outlook will now automatically link you to all your contacts in Microsoft’s new Social networking site.
    Outlook will automatically create your profile based on smart searching of your emails.
    Approximate time will be 10 hours 34 minutes.”

    Your computer will be monopolised for 10 hours and 34 minutes, and then crash. You will not be able choose who to connect to, you will not be able to stop it auto-suggesting more people to connect to and things to buy every time you turn your computer on, and the profile it will construct of you will be both amusing inaccurate and embarrassingly revealing.

    Bring it on, it should be very funny, and since I use uBuntu, and almost everyone I want to be connected to uses either uBunut or Apple it won’t hurt unless I laugh too hard.

  9. Good thinking there Mr Buckland! Sheesh, that would be huge.

  10. Guess why I use Thunderbird?

  11. Hmm, maybe, but maybe not.

    Users will still want to allow these connections to happen. My guess is that a large percentage of people will not want to connected to the majority of users in their Outlook .pst’s.

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