Docs.com: The surest sign yet of Microsoft's defeat

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made some amazing announcements yesterday, during the f8 conference. Docs.com wasn't one of them.

"You can discover, create, and share Microsoft Office documents with your Facebook friends," according to the service's Website. What Docs.com really does more is provide Microsoft a lifeline, as the company seeks to maintain the relevance of its Office-Windows-Windows Server applications stack before the rising mobile device-to-cloud applications/services stack. Docs.com is a futile, short-sighted enterprise that acknowledges Microsoft has already lost the new century's platform wars.

Facebook: Windows in the Clouds

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For years, I've likened Facebook to Windows, blogging in July 2007 that: "Facebook has the potential to become a kind of operating system in the clouds that developers extend and plug into." At the time, Facebook had 30 million users; the number is closer to 500 million today. In September 2007, I explained further: "Facebook is like Microsoft, only the social networking company's platform is built on the Internet."

More from the September 2007 post:

Windows is widely regarded as a platform, but that's a misnomer. The PC is the platform. Windows is nothing without the PC. Windows is a platform, but secondary to the PC platform. Similarly, the Web is a platform (and, yes, arguably secondary to hundreds of thousands of servers). Web 2.0 platform companies like Google operate on the Internet platform.

But Facebook is different from Google. Facebook is not a Web 2.0 operation; rather it's more like Desktop 1.0 than Web 2.0. Since May [2007], when Facebook opened up to outside developers, the service increasingly has morphed into an Internet operating system. Like Windows, Facebook is an enclosed platform, and one where people can install applications, post and share digital content and communicate with friends, families or others in ways they might do with Windows on PCs.

Facebook is also a lot more like Microsoft than it resembles Google, because it's so-called openness is more of a one-way street. Information goes in, but it doesn't easily come out. Developers write applications for the one platform, which is different from, say, tapping into Google APIs (application programming interfaces) for use elsewhere. Facebook and Google both take platform approaches, but Facebook's way is more like Windows than Web 2.0.

I blogged in December 2009:

Facebook's cloud OS, with zillions of applications and more than 350 million subscribers, is now a vortex sucking in seemingly all Internet traffic. Many people who posted to blogs and photo sharing sites are moving their personal information and content to Facebook -- like they did Windows a computing generation ago. Facebook has huge customer lock-in potential, because the data is so much more personal than that put into Office and Windows a decade ago.

Facebook ushers in Web 4.0

Yesterday, everything changed. Zuckerburg paraded like a young Bill Gates (only with better oration and presence). Facebook's founder is cocky, arrogant, ruthless and visionary. He outlined a development strategy that would intertwine Facebook into the World Wide Web. It's brilliant and frightening. Zuckerburg is making the leap from Desktop 1.0 to Web 4.0 -- perhaps Platform 3.0 (Mainframe and PC being Nos 1 and 2). Nothing will be the same, if Facebook succeeds -- and the company has momentum that's shock waves should leave Google quaking in their wake.

According to IDC, there were 1.6 billion Internet users in 2009, with the number expected to reach 2.2 billion by 2013. Facebook will soon have 500 million active subscribers, or -- assuming there are no duplicates (unlikely) -- nearly one-third the whole population of Internet users. Facebook's growth far exceeds that of Internet users. In less than three years, the number of Facebook users climbed from 30 million to nearly 500 million. By the way, that 500 million is about half the entire PC install base; many of those Facebook users access the service by mobile device, a market where Microsoft dropped the ball in the end zone.

Facebook has enormous momentum. Microsoft is aligning its old applications stack with the new one, trying to keep its aging platform on life support just a little longer. Death is inevitable. Deal with it. Yesterday I tweeted: "Docs.com: Old content stack (Office) meets the new one (Facebook). Dunno. There are reasons nature abhors interbreeding of species." That Microsoft's FUSE Labs developed Docs.com at all is admission there is a new platform in town.

Docs.com represents the old content model. Microsoft has good ideas about collaboration, but wrongly binds them to Office. As I asserted in January: "Office is obsolete, or soon will be." Same can be said about Google Docs. The productivity suite model focuses on how people create content, when along the mobile device-to-cloud applications/services stack the priority is what and where. By aligning Docs.com with Facebook, Microsoft is at least partly dealing with the what and where. But the what still puts too much emphasis on how -- meaning productivity suite. Are hundreds of millions of Facebook subscribers creating Word documents or Excel spreadsheets? Do they need to? No and no. They're sharing photos, videos and messages -- none of which requires Office or Docs.com to create. By contrast, Facebook's Social plugins put the emphasize on the what people create, where they create it and with whom they share it.

The Facebook in the Mirror

Things could have been different. Facebook is doing with platforms what Microsoft should have been able to with its applications stack -- become part of the very fabric of the Web platform. More startling, chunks of Facebook's Open Graph vision come from Microsoft's own HailStorm playbook, such as the single-sign-on concept. Microsoft pitched single-sign-on with Passport a decade ago.

Facebook also is looking to tie quantifiable information to real user identities, something neither Google nor Microsoft dared to do but were accused of trying. Advertising potential is simply staggering should Facebook successfully leap all the privacy hurdles. Zuckerburg is just arrogant and aggressive enough to try and succeed.

Docs.com demonstrates much about what is wrong with Microsoft today. The company focuses too much on preserving existing revenue streams when creating newer ones should be the priority. Microsoft's self-preservation approach compels its developers to bind new technologies to Office or Windows, when they should be set free to embrace standards and help establish others. Microsoft is a follower in a market it once lead.

Three companies are now positioning for computing dominance -- Apple, Facebook and Google. All have a stake in the mobile-to-device applications/services stack. Adobe, IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun were the major players during the desktop-to-server stack's heyday. Sun declined and Oracle acquired it. Adobe is in early stages of what I predict will later be a suddenly rapid decline. IBM, Microsoft and Oracle are locked in the enterprise, where their computing and informational relevance will slowly decline over the coming decade.

That Facebook's Open Graph and other f8 announcements come ahead of Windows Live Wave 4 is foreshadowing. You tell me what Microsoft can launch that will trump what Facebook announced yesterday. Microsoft claims on order of 400 million Live users, a number that seemingly rivals Facebook. But Microsoft subscribers are scattered among disparate Web services. Facebook users are consolidated within a single platform framework, like Windows.

A few years back, I stood in the pharmacy line behind an old geezer; he complained about buying medicines for his wife. The clerk joked: "Well, you married her for better or worse." He snarked: "I've had the better, now I've got the worse!" Microsoft has the worse now, too. Perhaps it's time for the company to divorce Office and Windows. Sure Microsoft depends on their income, but that won't last forever.

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