IT Strategy Forgotten

Yet another example of the Orphans of the Sky scenario at Microsoft is Google’s use of Microsoft’s ActiveSync to synchronize your contacts and calendars among your mobile and cloud-based apps.

In case the buzzwords are unfamiliar:  Google provides free contact management and calendar functions through Gmail, its free email service.  ActiveSync is the data synchronization component of Exchange, Microsoft’s extremely expensive server application for contact management, calendar and email.  So one is free, the other extremely expensive.  Got that?  Let’s move on.

It is really hard to make synchronization like this work right.  This was Palm’s secret sauce for a while, and they still hold a bunch of patents on it.  Mighty Apple Inc. blew it here recently, accidentally erasing all contact data for thousands of customers during a routine software update.  Microsoft no doubt spent a lot of money and effort getting ActiveSync just right.  But they apparently forgot their most valuable skill of the 1980s and 1990s:  strategy.

As Palm learned to its disappointment, there is little strategic advantage in replicating data across devices.  The real advantage is in being the place where that data is generated and stored.  

If you use Gmail and its contact and calendar apps, then Google holds the strategic advantage (albeit a weak one, because everything can be exported to open formats).  They paid almost nothing for the synchronization features.  Microsoft paid a lot for synchronization features that actually facilitated their customers’ transition to Gmail.

If you synchronize via Exchange, but maintain all your contacts at Google Apps or Gmail, then Google has won another round against MSFT.

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