At the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco this week, Microsoft made what, for it, is an unusual sort of announcement. Dharmesh Mehta, Director of Product Management for Windows Live, announced that Microsoft was abandoning its Windows Live Spaces blogging service, and would migrate the existing user base to WordPress.com. (That is, of course, the platform for this blog.) Toni Schneider, CEO of Automattic, the company behind WordPress, was also present for the announcement. Microsoft’s initial statement was that Live Spaces had 30 million users, but it appears that many of these accounts may have been dormant for a long while, and that the number of active users may be considerably less.
I did an informal survey of blogging platforms before I launched Random Walks, and WordPress was considerably superior to Microsoft’s offering in terms of flexibility and features offered. So, in one sense, this is a perfectly rational decision on Microsoft’s part, especially since Live Spaces never really took off.
But in another sense, it is a decision one would not expect from Microsoft. There has always been a strong bias in Redmond against outside technology, and sometimes against common standards — the Not Invented Here syndrome is alive and well there. One might think, for example, that the world probably has enough different programming languages, but that has not stopped Microsoft from developing their own. Witness also Microsoft’s machinations to get its OOXML document format approved as a standard, rather than cooperating with the proposed, and now ISO standard, Open Document Format [ODF]. So for Microsoft to accept using someone else’s technology for one of its services is, well, unusual. Another interesting aspect of the switch is that WordPress software is an open-source project, written in PHP, and running on the open-source Apache Web server — something of a climb-down for Microsoft, which has in the past likened open-source to communism and a cancer.
In the blog post announcing the change, the company freely acknowledged that the focus should be on providing the best possible consumer experience, and when this means using best-of-breed third-party services, that should be the approach.
Obviously, it will be something of a nuisance for Live Spaces users to get acquainted with a new platform, but I think the change will be a good one in the longer term. And if Microsoft has decided that it can, at least in some circumstances, play nice with NIH technology, that is probably good news for a wider audience.
Microsoft has posted a fuller announcement on the Windows Team Blog.