Microsoft made some waves on Wednesday with the announcement of its new “Bing as a platform” strategy, but the news shouldn’t have been too surprising. Microsoft has been going toe-to-toe with Google in the world of web services for years, and the only way to stay competitive is to fight fire with fire. If Google uses the data it collects from search, images and other services to build new products and developer tools, Microsoft has to do the same with Bing.
If you ask anyone at Microsoft, they’ll probably tell you the same. That certainly was the story at the company’s TechForum event in early March. As I reported after that event, Chief Research and Strategy Officer Craig Mundie expounded on the importance of Bing early on (“Its long-term value is just as much as a deep infrastructural element,” he said) and Online Services Division President Qi Lu talked about building an a digital society in which a platform like Bing can be the fabric that weaves all the information together.
At our Structure conference last week, Microsoft Server and Tools Business President Satya Nadella talked about the importance of Bing as a source of institutional knowledge for running infrastructure and applications at web scale.
The writing on the wall in Redmond must say pretty clearly that Google is going to eat Microsoft’s lunch in the connected-everything world if Microsoft doesn’t learn to, well, learn from Google. For years, Google has been offering up its Maps and other APIs to developers, and has been training algorithms to recognize speech and the content of photos and videos. It has been turning the infrastructure to run its services — tools like Dremel and BigTable — into products that live in the cloud.
And the Google Cloud Platform and its Android operating system look better everyday because of these efforts. Microsoft has a stake in the cloud and mobile industries, too, as well as in the gaming and contents industries with its Xbox platform. Keeping Bing’s technologies and data to itself would spell doom and all but cede those markets to the company’s myriad competitors.
Consumers and business want better applications, regardless who builds them. If Bing lets Microsoft develop better products on its own and sweetens the pot for third-party developers who want a suite of cool services to enhance their applications, perhaps it will show that Microsoft is an old desktop dog that can learn new tricks.
At the least, Microsoft can say it went down swinging.