Microsoft was so successful in software that they missed perhaps the biggest shift, a shift still happening, since the Internet itself. Many other companies are going to miss the shift to the Internet of Things, but they don’t have to.
Microsoft as an also-ran
Once upon a time, young Bill Gates and Paul Allen, inspired by a Popular Electronics story, set change in motion that made Microsoft a massive company touching every corner of the globe (if a globe has corners…). But that innovation that kicked off change hasn’t shown up in more recent times. Elise Ackerman wrote today in Forbes:
Today, the wheel of technology has turned. Microsoft’s monopoly position in computer operating systems is being chipped away by Apple, Google and others. Its continued dominance of business productivity applications is uncertain. In areas like Internet search, social networking and smartphone software, Microsoft holds the humbling position of an also-ran.
If you think Windows 8 will change things, read on.
Internet of Things
There can be no better explanation of where Microsoft missed their date with the future than their absence from a leadership position in the Internet of Things. Way back in 2009, Kevin Ashton wrote a piece for RFID Journal that, while focused on RFID, was really a much broader statement about moving from an Internet of thoughts to an Internet of ‘things’. He summed up as follows:
We’re physical, and so is our environment. Our economy, society and survival aren’t based on ideas or information—they’re based on things. You can’t eat bits, burn them to stay warm or put them in your gas tank. Ideas and information are important, but things matter much more. Yet today’s information technology is so dependent on data originated by people that our computers know more about ideas than things.
If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things—using data they gathered without any help from us—we would be able to track and count everything, and greatly reduce waste, loss and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best.
We need to empower computers with their own means of gathering information, so they can see, hear and smell the world for themselves, in all its random glory.
That’s a very long quote but very important. Ashton was predicting the need for technology to manage the physical world far more than it does today. That means so much more than operating systems (mostly commoditized), hardware (very commoditized) and databases (highly commoditized).
What Microsoft missed
This is what Microsoft missed in a nutshell: Microsoft missed their moment to build the data connectors, sorters, filters, analytics, event processing, rules, and workflow that makes the Internet of Things a manageable and lucrative reality. They had the means and could have taken the turn ten or more years ago.
Instead, a combination of startups and technology platform players are positioned to dominate the Internet of Things landscape. Between point solutions mostly created by tiny startups and the platform players that follow or buy up those startups, the technology needs of this new paradigm will be met.
Ackerman makes a good point that it won’t happen overnight and that the Internet of Things needs to be constructed just as the Internet was. But watch carefully where investment goes in the coming twelve months and you’ll get a good idea of how that’s happening now.