Win 32 API for MSN

August 26, 2005

I’m on a flight to Seattle and I’m bored; I wish these they would hurry up and get Internet access on planes already. I know Scoble, Chris Pirillo and some other people were able to check out the new Wi-Fi enabled planes courtesy of Boeing a few weeks back, but they need to deploy that stuff stat!

Anyways, one of the thoughts I’ve been mulling over the past few days is a strange inconsistency with the way Microsoft has been setting up its strategy for MSN. First, let me put out an assertion:

One of the smartest things Microsoft ever did was create an awesome developer platform for Windows. It was pure genius; they created an ecosystem around the Windows platform and it is widely recognized as one of the reasons that Microsoft has an OS monopoly today.

And then look at how MSN is operating:

From what I can tell, MSN has been operating in a walled garden. Most of their services do not have accessible developer APIs (there are exceptions I’m sure, Virtual Earth comes to mind). They have put the onus upon themselves to create the Internet experience that they think consumers want. The MSN backend infrastructure is completely closed from what I can tell; there is no Win32 of MSN.

Here’s what I’d love to see:

Microsoft takes a strategy from their own playbook and replicates it for MSN. They stop focusing so much on providing all the services themselves; instead, they start focusing on enabling other companies to create services on top of their platform. Lastly, connect the MSN platform to the Windows platform. Make it easy for desktop apps to use MSN as a store; make it easy for web apps to access things on the desktop.

Option 1: Provide the platform for free. Build an ecosystem of developers who write connected apps, using your infrastructure as their backend. Once the ecosystem is built up, create MSN apps that are worth paying for – such as MSN Money, MSN Music, mobile sync, etc. These MSN apps are on the same playing field as 3rd party apps; the ecosystem works the same way as the Windows platform ecosystem works today.

Option 2: Charge consumers for enhanced platform access. For all users, provide a base level of functionality for free. For Windows users, their experience gets better. For those who want the best experience, they can pay a subscription fee and get access to enhanced platform functionality. This enhanced platform may enable cool MSN developed apps and/or it may enable some more complex 3rd party apps. Maybe you give 2GB of online storage space and have to pay for more. Maybe you’re allowed to do 1Gb of transfer a month with the API, and you have to pay for more. I’m sure the marketing and business guys can think of something 😉

Option 3: Consumers get it for free, business have to pay. Make it free for consumers so they get on your platform. Then, businesses who want to play have to pay. Basically, they are paying to get access to the users. The market for this is potentially huge; if the MSN platform is an extension of the Windows platform, we’re talking about allowing companies to get access to all Windows users through the MSN platform.

If MSN were to do this, and I worked at Yahoo!, Google, or AOL, I would probably pee my pants. Out of all the big players, Microsoft is the one best suited to build up a platform like this – an Internet OS. They’ve got all the pieces: the experience, the bankroll, the talent, and the infrastructure.

I wonder why they haven’t done this… there are lots of incredibly smart people at Microsoft and many of them work on MSN. I’d be shocked if BillG hasn’t thought about this very idea before – he’s an incredibly smart guy. Do the people at Microsoft still think the future of computing is on the desktop? Do they not believe that the future of computing is in the network, not on the desktop?

Sure some things work pretty well today on the desktop – word processing, spreadsheets, graphics rendering, and (for some strange reason) IM clients. But you’ve got to wonder, one day, when everyone has Gigabit connections, won’t it be easy to have a remote hosted copy of Microsoft Word? These ideas may not have been feasible back in 1996 when people were still on dial-up modems, but within the next decade, I think we’re looking at a rapidly changing computing landscape.

The Netscape dream will come true sooner or later, you can delay it, but you can’t escape it 😉


No Responses Yet to “Win 32 API for MSN”

  1. markl Says:

    hailstorm was exactly that platform. it was a first step, sort of the core kernel layering of the platform, but included data access, retrieval, model/semantics, etc. billg killed it himself.

  2. BenB Says:

    My sentiments exactly. This is what I was writing about as well with Google Talk – It’s Not About The Client. Also, from personal experience, I would say your assertion of MSN being a walled garden is very accurate.

    I will say – a paid API option will likely fail. Sure, Microsoft can look at it as giving outside companies access to “their users” – true. However, I suggest an outside developer can look at developing on the platform as bringing more users to the service (i.e. provide a product which compells people to make the switch). Perhaps a hybrid royalty based approach would work, as that could perhaps take into account many of the free widgets and add-ons that could be value ad. An example is the desktop search API and how they have opened that up.

  3. MickoZ Says:

    Maybe google take those idea you have and put them into action as they don’t have to support old stuff. Which is something important for MSFT business.

    I think next year is gonna be very interesting at Microsoft.

    Also I think I read that MSN team worked with MSN Plus guy (one of the only widget I used with MSN) to help him or encouraged him at less (i.e. they supported him). That is interesting.

  4. James Says:

    I agree that MSN could do a much better job at providing API’s from some of their services and I imagine that more services will have API’s over time.

    The idea about charging consumers for “enhanced platform access” is one that has not examined history closely. The past 10 years of the Internet have taught us, if nothing else, that consumers (in mass) do not pay for software (whether it be online or boxed product). MSN tried to do this with Hotmail and it has all but failed. There are many other attempts that have all failed. The only exception to this is porn and dating services (and some might say that is another version of porn).

    I would agree that there are other business models beyond advertising, but clearly the most effective business model when delivering consumer software online is advertising. Advertisers are willing to pay way more for an eyeball that consumers are willing to pay for software.

  5. Bhasker Says:

    there must be some reason. in the first place,ive alwasy wondered how MS has managed to collaborate not make anything redundant with all the projects they have ,be it a common feature from any two office products or some dicision of whether to choose the feature from say a mappoint or a virtual earth . All very subtle and important decision that gravitate towards consolidating their existing services . gr8 effort ,u got to say.

    more on the networked life ,im sure theres something they have in mind. The windows media centre ,microsoft automative and windows embedded all go to say that. To have converged and seamless integration .so im guessing that wer not going to see a deviation from the pc to a networked pc ,but from devices part from pcs using this model .

  6. markjen Says:

    Sorry for the delayed response guys, I’ve been in Canada on a long weekend trip to Victoria/Vancouver 🙂

    MarkL – Hehe, now that you mention it, it does sound like hailStorm eh? I guess I’m suggesting they dust off those old specs and see how they fit into the MSN system today.

    BenB and James – I would say that user’s habits do change, sometimes slowly, sometimes quicker than you’d think. There are some sites out there do offer services for free and charge for enhanced versions (Flickr comes to mind). I don’t think this sort of business model is impossible, especially if there was actually awesome software/services you could get access to with a small subscription fee.

    Mickoz – I’m sure there are people at Google for whom this is not a new idea (the first commentor jumps to mind 😉 ). However, we’ll see if they are indeed interested in moving into the platform space. So far, they haven’t really done anything that’s made people stand up and take notice, but perhaps they’ve got something in stealth mode still… or perhaps an engineer will get inspired and decide to whip something up in his/her 20% time 😛

    bhasker – I hope MSFT & MSN have something in mind, but the sad truth is, they don’t need to do anything and MSFT will chug along just fine – Windows and Office can carry them forward for at least another decade without breaking a sweat.

  7. BenB Says:


    Just to be clear – I was specifically talking about charging the developers (ISVs) for access to APIs – not whether people (end customers) will pay for access. I surely do think customers will pay, I do not in any way see that it is feasible to charge for API access (which is what MSN Messenger has had in the past – very few partners, selective and cosed). Customers will pay for services that are worth it, but Microsoft has done a terrible job of opening the service ala Hailstorm. I also stand by the value-add aspect, take a look at Windows and ask how well it would have done if developers had to pay for access to the APIs.

  8. markjen Says:

    Hey Adam, thanks for the link. I’ll definitely be posting about the new APIs after I get a chance to play with them a little bit 🙂

  9. […] This forms the basis behind my Win32 API for MSN post. Which, by the way, looks like Microsoft has indeed started looking into with their MSN API announcements this week. I hope they’ve only just started and the 4 or 5 APIs they’ve released this week are only a few of tens or hundreds of services they plan on opening up. […]

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