Sunday, October 23, 2005

Death of a killer app

The headlines may soon read "Microsoft gives death sentence to killer app.".

That's right: an application used by millions has been given the boot. This application is used today on Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. It's very ability to provide services across these platforms has been part of its longstanding appeal. In recent years, Microsoft has de-emphasized it - covering up its UI is different ways. Now Windows Vista has killed it.

What is this mystery application? How did its death come about? And - more importantly - what does it mean to you? It's NetMeeting. Used by millions for that peer-to-peer meeting in an ad-hoc fashion. Used by millions of others in its more recent branding as the app hidden behind the smoke and mirrors in things like Windows Messenger, Office Communicator, and others. That's right: Do you ever hit that "share application" button in one of those tools? If so, you use NetMeeting even if you didn't know it. As for how it died, that's best left to the consipiracy theorists. However, here's a couple of reasons I've heard from various places:

  • The code was too old and broken to be easily brought forward into Windows Vista
  • It competes with a forthcoming fee-based Microsoft product and had to be dropped
  • It couldn't be retrofitted for IPv6 and the new driver model on Vista

If any of those are accurate, it's most likely a fortuitous accident. However, that's what people are saying.

More important than the why question is the "what now?" question. How are people to do any real time collaboration between say a Windows XP machine and a Vista machine? It's impossible; at least using in-box tools. If you want true peer-to-peer like NetMeeting gave you, you need to find a third-party product. Be sure to add the project costs for evaluating, selecting, purchasing, and deploying such a product into the mix for cost-justifying any planned upgrades to Windows Vista. As most people understand, putting in a new OS doesn't happen overnight (unless you have a company of 10 people in which case it just might). So the reality is that people who collaborate freely today will not be able to once one of them is "upgraded" to Vista. In fact, this feature deprecation has the potential to delay (perhaps indefinitely) the adoption of Windows Vista in many corporations.

In this case the jaded, "Where do you want to go today?" seems to be a rhetorical question. Instead, Microsoft's taking you where they want you to go - into a brave new world where you have to spend money to collaborate.

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