Barney's Rubble

Let's Get Small

Upcoming Microsoft products will be more powerful and larger than their predecessors -- but with such great size comes great responsibilities.

Microsoft is prepping a new wave of software that will undoubtedly bring in untold riches and strengthen the company's grip on desktop and server operating systems, productivity suites and messaging.

But this very power means that these products will define all of these categories for a decade or more to come. And these programs are all very, very large. Is that what we want?

Take Vista. This OS has some 50 million lines of code, an impressive or insane number depending on how you look at it. But what's the cost? First, there's complexity. A product this big is difficult to build, tune, polish and, as we all know, ship! It may also be difficult to use, as feature upon unnecessary feature bombard defenseless users who just want to open a file or visit a Web site.

Such complexity opens thousands upon thousands of avenues for hackers to cruise, and can make plugging these holes darn near impossible. And then there's this little matter of hardware economics. With XP, we're to the point where PCs are commodities -- a wonderful thing as we can spoil our kids with their own machines, and the less advantaged can buy a PC for the cost of a TV.

Vista changes all that with its hunger for more RAM, hard drive, CPU power and graphics. Will we see $500 Vista laptops and $300 Vista desktops in the near future? I doubt it.

Who asked for such a gargantuan OS? Most folks I've heard from want the opposite, a lean, mean, personal-computing machine.

Mini Doug

Which brings us to Office 2007. I have no doubt this will maintain Microsoft's desktop monopoly, at least for Corporate America. Office 2007 integrates tightly with tools such as Groove for data sharing, and more importantly will be the front-end to dozens of mainstream ERP, CRM, supply chain and other core business apps.

But this is also a whale of a program, one that flies in the face of what users have been begging for -- a simpler, smaller, more stable and usable set of productivity tools.

The new, improved and, of course, far fatter server tools, Exchange 2007 and Longhorn, are perhaps less of an issue. Servers these days are mighty powerful, and Microsoft server products tend to be stable, usable and popular with those that run them.

But there's this little disconnect. Microsoft's new mantra is Web services, which to my mind means tight, component-based products that work well over networks with varying bandwidth. I'm not entirely sure how a monolithic e-mail platform that requires a high-end 64-bit server (Exchange 2007) can serve as a tight, component-based product that works well over networks with varying bandwidth. Of course, I never majored in computer science, so I might not be smart enough to understand how it can do both.

If you can explain how huge apps can become tight, efficient Web services, e-mail me your explanations. I'm at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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