All Together Now, Microsoft

Opinion: Collaboration is key for companies working to stay on top in a Web 2.0 world.

Collaborate good times, come on! Its a collaboration.

OK, so Kool and the Gang werent actually singing about collaboration. But there is a party going on round here. And, to a very large degree, its all about collaboration.

The party that Im talking about is Web 2.0. Nowadays, you cant read a tech site or go to a convention or even hang around Internet and technology workers without Web 2.0 coming up. It is, by a very large margin, the current buzz du jour.

And one of the biggest components of many Web 2.0 sites and technologies is collaboration. Much of Web 2.0 is about harnessing the knowledge and work of many people to create something of value.

This is why companies that treat Web 2.0 as some kind of kid-oriented MySpace thing are making a mistake. When you get right down to it, the core mission of Web 2.0 is the core mission of pretty much every business out there.

/zimages/4/28571.gifMicrosoft opens the next version of SharePoint to developers. Read more here.

Need some more proof of the value of collaboration today? Just take a look at Microsoft. When Bill Gates recently decided to pull back from his duties there, was a dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft type of person picked to replace Gates as the top software architect?

Nope. Microsoft actually went with someone who had been with the company for only a year. And that person—Ray Ozzie—just happened to have once been a top player at a company that Microsoft was dedicated to destroying just 15 years ago.

But when I look at Ozzies elevation to one of the top spots at Microsoft, the thing that keeps jumping out at me is collaboration. You can make a pretty good argument that no one in the world knows more about collaboration than Ozzie.

After all, Ozzie came to Microsoft when it acquired his company, Groove—maker of one of the more intriguing collaboration products of recent years. And, oh, yeah—before that, Ozzie helped bring us a little ol application called Lotus Notes.

So when I look at the elevation of Ozzie at Microsoft, it looks to me as if the folks there are seeing that the future of computing is going to be all about collaboration and interconnectedness and that it will need to enable participation and, yes, collaboration throughout all its products.

So far, so good. But Microsoft needs to jump a few long-standing hurdles before it can become a full-on Web 2.0 company.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read about Microsofts unified communications strategy.

First, Microsoft is still all about big, fat client applications and tying users down to these applications. You see this even in the Microsoft application that is the companys best play in the Web 2.0 world—SharePoint.

By itself, SharePoint is a pretty good portal and Web collaboration platform. But, to make it great, you need to leverage all its integration with the current generation of Office clients. This can be very frustrating for businesses that work in the real world, where not everyone who needs to collaborate on a project is on the latest version of the Microsoft productivity suite.

The fat-client problem goes beyond Microsoft to Ozzie himself. While he knows collaboration, Ozzie also knows fat clients. Notes was always just a little too big of a client for its day, and one of the biggest drawbacks to the Groove application is that its a resource-intensive hog.

If Microsoft truly wants to be a big player in a participatory Web 2.0 world, it is going to have to get real thin, real fast. This isnt impossible these days, with advances in Web development such as AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). And open-source collaboration products, like the Zimbra suite we reviewed earlier in 2006, show how a Groove-like client can be built that works in a browser without sacrificing functionality.

If Microsoft built next-generation Groove and collaboration tools like this, they would probably be very popular. But if Microsoft follows its traditional halfway model of offering some thin collaboration features while still tying them to its fat clients, many companies will begin to look elsewhere.

Because—just like in the disco days—in the Web 2.0 world, if you want to collaborate and have a good time, then thin is in.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at

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