Onstage with Bill Gates at Mix 06
22/03/2006
I'm about to go onstage with Bill Gates this morning to talk about Web 2.0, as I call it, or Live Software, as he does. He starts at 9 with a keynote of 20-25 minutes, followed by a demo or two, and I think we're on at about 9:40. I have twenty minutes to ask questions, and then ten from the audience. I believe that it's going to be webcast here.

 Permalink

By tim on March 20, 2006

Here are the questions I've got queued up to ask him (obviously, I'm not going to get to them all, unless his answers are very short):

1. I'm the guy who launched a thousand blog posts (or more precisely 99,064 according to Technorati) and almost as many VC pitches by starting the buzz about what I call web 2.0. You call it Live Software, but I think we're talking about the same idea.

One of the key aspects of "Web 2.0" is the development of systems that get better the more people use them. Even web 1.0 is like that--everyone who builds a site and then links to another site is making an improvement to the entire web. Anyone who tags a photo in flickr, or a bookmark in del.icio.us, is adding value for every other user. Is Microsoft applying this idea to its own products? If so, how?

2. Still on the Web 2.0 theme, it seems to me that data, rather than software APIs, is the new source of lock-in. For example, I was having a conversation with an insurance executive recently, and he pointed out that their rates are increasingly being set by telematics data -- where you drive, how fast and how far -- rather than by demographic data. He described them as hostage to the telematics data aggregator. Meanwhile, all of the web mapping engines rely on data from NavTeq and TeleAtlas. NavTeq has even gone so far as to label cars with "NavTeq Onboard" in the same way that Intel labels PCs as "Intel Inside." Have these developments influenced your business strategy in any way?

3. Microsoft has a history of knocking competitors out of the ring. Lotus, Borland, WordPerfect, Netscape. All of them are history. You're even gaining ground against Oracle and IBM with SQL Server. But it seems to me that there's a crucial difference in the competition you're facing now. It's not just a competition with a rival software company, but a competition between business models. Google and Yahoo! don't sell software -- they deliver services that are monetized by advertising. Even Apple is successfully in this game, with iTunes as a service bound to hardware and with a data pay-per-view model. Are we seeing the end of the software business model as we've known it for the past couple of decades?

4. I've used the term "internet operating system" to describe what I'm seeing evolve. But obviously, it's not an "operating system" in traditional terms. But we are starting to see the internet as a platform, working out rules for interoperability between applications, building (hopefully reliable) subsystems that developers can rely on. Can we talk a bit about what form the future internet platform will take?

5. On a related note, one of the key principles of open source software development is said to be "Release early, and release often." Now, Web 2.0 developers like Flickr and 37signals have pushed that idea to an extreme, with Cal Henderson of Flickr reportedly pushing builds out to the net every 30 minutes. Even at sites like Google and Amazon, new features are rolled out regularly, often in a kind of "perpetual beta." Meanwhile, Microsoft still rolls out its software in multi- year timeframes. And this is not for lack of cool new features in the labs. For example, the structured cut and paste with microformats that Ray Ozzie demoed at our eTech conference really made a splash. How can you get this kind of stuff more quickly into the main product stream? Or making this very concrete, why wasn't Office Live just rolled out as an upgrade to Office, rather than a separate product?

6. Do you have specific ideas about how you're going to beat Google in search? What kinds of innovations are going to give us better results than we have today? A lot of folks have tried to displace Google -- A9, Snap, MSN, Yahoo! -- and none of them have made the cut.

7. What do you make of the fact that despite all the standards work done on the web services stack, that it's more informally developed services like RSS that have become so widespread? And that Google Maps took off as a platform play after its data format was deciphered by a New Zealand programmer, while the formal web services APIs of other mapping players had received only limited uptake up till that time? Similarly, while the grand vision of the semantic web hasn't gone anywhere, microformats are starting to catch on.

8. What do you think about microformats? How important is data interoperability?

9. There are some very ambitious growth numbers for online advertising, but these assume advertisers will be able to profile people with some precision in order to target their advertising. How do you reconcile the personal computing model of selling software to the end user with the advertising model of selling the end user to the advertiser? Is there a balance that can be achieved here?

10. As a publisher, I care a lot about how people will consume words in the future. I know you are passionate about tablets and on-screen reading. But is just creating a new form factor device what it's going to take to launch this market? What does "Reading 2.0" look like?

11. Last question: Freeman Dyson has described the last twenty years as being about the domestication of computing, and the next twenty years being about the domestication of biotechnology. Microsoft has obviously played a key role in domesticating computing, but you're also pretty involved in public health and biotechnology issues. Thoughts on this next frontier?

Tags: web 20 microsoft

Comments

Is the webcast really Windows-only? Seems like this was intended as something of an 'outreach' event (inviting Tim to do this session; using the web 2.0 style, etc.) -- if so, supporting other platforms for getting the message out would have been smart.

Posted by: Marc Hedlund at March 20, 2006 09:59 AM

Please do summarize answers in a future blog post.

-t

Posted by: Thomas Lord at March 20, 2006 12:07 PM

Great questions to Bill this morning. I thought you did a fine job of addressing complex issues in a straightforward way that was not combative.

I'm here and listening carefully but still wondering if Microsoft "gets" 2.0. Also wondering if they *can* embrace Web 2.0 and remain .... "Microsoft"?

Posted by: Joe Hunkins at March 20, 2006 04:31 PM

Joe -- I'm not sure that Microsoft does "get it" -- but I'm also not sure that they need to. Their model is generally fast follower rather than innovator. And if you look at some of the key areas, they have done a good job. E.g. in Europe, MSN messenger is now the #1 IM network. They have a huge set of assets to deploy, and a lot to risk by deploying them too soon, before it's clear what the business models are.

I always approach companies like Microsoft with a degree of humility. It's easy to miss what they do get -- their huge user base indicates just how well they understand their target market.

But back to the "not" side: I got the sense that Bill still thinks of "participation" as just user generated content or feedback, and doesn't understand the way that in Web 2.0 apps, the user feedback loop is an intrinsic part of the application. I also don't think he gets how much data has the potential as a lock in point.

But I think that Microsoft gets enough to be a real competitor in this space, and to do some really interesting work. They are a great learning organization.

Posted by: Tim O'Reilly at March 20, 2006 04:48 PM

I would argue that Microsoft does indeed "get it", but that they often choose (either wisely or unwisely) not to act.

One thing that Microsoft has demonstrated consistently is their ability to understand what kinds of strategies lead to dominant platforms. With Windows, they dominated with the Win32 API and the ability to attract developers to that API. If it indeed data/content is the next big "system lock-in" opportunity, my money is on Microsoft to figure this out and somehow find a way to get partners on their platform.

My two cents...

Posted by: Dharmesh Shah at March 20, 2006 05:54 PM

Great questions, as usual!

Posted by: Neo at March 21, 2006 09:30 AM

Really interesting what Microsoft think about data formats. Currently the RDF and OWL are considered to represent web ontologies (I see these standards should become schemas for Web 2.0 resources). I tried to find some information about Microsoft researches in this field but I still cannot find it.

Posted by: Pavel at March 21, 2006 11:14 AM

Microsoft thoughtfully provided a transcript of the keynote, including our conversation. I haven't read it yet, but I imagine it's accurate.

Oh, and if you want to hear the original discussion (link above), the Q&A section begins at 0:53:50 in the webcast.

Posted by: Tim O'Reilly at March 21, 2006 10:28 PM

Thanks, Tim and Microsoft.

-t

Posted by: Thomas Lord at March 21, 2006 11:15 PM

.