WebRTC Expert Feature

February 24, 2014

An Open WebRTC Letter to Satya Nadella and Microsoft

Congratulations to Satya Nadella on your new role as CEO and the Microsoft team for having a new CEO who is focused on change and reinvigoration. Microsoft is a strong team with a reputation for innovation and market leadership. I thought it would be good to write a note about 2014 as Mr. Nadella takes the CEO reigns. (Btw, 2013 sure seemed to be a good year for Microsoft; revenue was upyou’re your stock price went up by over 34 percent...congratulations to all.)

What I wanted to talk about though is WebRTC. I know you’ve been watching the developing standard, but I really think it’s time to jump into the fray, and not with a competing option. Across the board, waiting is not good for your and Microsoft's future. 

For Lync, WebRTC opens the door to an easy way to enable your customers to interact beyond the limitations of Lync federation and Skype users.  While both products have strong market positions, by extending their value seamlessly to any device, anywhere, it will encourage people to see the platform as open and extensible. It will also let the rest of the market see how Lync can change their work world by easily participating in Lync even if they are not a user.  I know you have the Lync Web client, but why not use the capabilities of WebRTC?  The quality is better, the devices broader, and it makes your job easier.  If you don’t do it, then one of 30 or so SBC and gateway manufacturers will do it for you with WebRTC-to-SIP trunk transcoding that will plug and play with Lync.  I am sure that Vidyo would be more than willing. Unfortunately, the quality will suffer through the transcoding, encouraging users to go directly to WebRTC with another browser.

For Skype, WebRTC can address what seems to be a huge disconnect.  While there are some ardent users that see Skype as their "communications platform", there is a much larger group that still sees Skype as "cheap international long distance." With WebRTC, you can open Skype up so anyone can reach a Skype user through a simple Web page. Millions of occasional Skype users may make Skype their primary communications platform. While this can be done with other technologies (not a download, thank you), the quality is just not as good. Now, with tens of millions of users seeing Skype as the place they can be reached, the groundwork for building new capabilities that can be monetized will be laid.  Hopefully you can show the value of the $8.5B investment.

I know putting WebRTC into Internet Explorer is a big step, but, if WebRTC is going to be as big as is being forecast (6.2B WebRTC devices by 2016), why risk giving users another reason to get Chrome or Firefox?  We all know that Chrome comes with lots of adverts for Google apps, and Mozilla is even releasing a WebOS to compete with Windows Mobile. Both are using their browsers to offer alternatives to your users. While you cannot convince Apple users to replace Safari, it sure seems like you should do everything you can to keep Windows and Office users from replacing Internet Explorer.  The first time someone gets an invite to a WebRTC meeting (6.2B devices by 2016, over a billion today!!), they are essentially groomed to download the competition.

Finally, WebRTC should be a key pillar for your mobile strategy.  Buying the Nokia devices business shows that you are serious about mobility, but the current size of the Windows Mobile user community is not large enough to drive a "friends and family" adoption of a walled garden strategy like Apple with FaceTime. With a small market share, the best strategy is differentiation in the device, not in a minuscule closed community.  While the big megapixel camera is cool, why not see WebRTC as being a key to that strategy?  With a Microsoft/Nokia device you get a great eco-system and openness to the big transformation, as well as seamless operation with your other devices (they will support WebRTC in IE as well).  Add in HTML5 portals to apps to reduce security concerns and you have a way to be the mobile enabler for enterprises and take a lead in BYOD.

In 1994, Bill Gates drove the adoption of the fledgling Internet as a mainstay for Microsoft's direction.  He sided with "a small group of younger workers who had become convinced that the Internet would revolutionize the computer software business," versus a group of senior executives that saw the Internet and Netscape as a threat to be fought (quote from a NY Times article on the Microsoft website here).  At the time, many in Microsoft and outside said that Netscape, browsers, and the Internet were the potential end of Microsoft. However, Bill Gates showed that instead of competing with transformation, it’s better to adopt it, improve on it and make it your own. In the 10 years after that decision, Microsoft stock value went up 872 percent - perhaps because Microsoft had the foresight to adopt what many saw as a threat. Imagine if Microsoft had never built a browser or any Internet technology and had stayed just as an OS and device app company?

It’s time to embrace the next major shift in the market - the "webification" of communications - and for you and Microsoft to step forward to a leadership position in this transformation, just as the Microsoft team did 20 years ago.  On April 6, 1994, Bill Gates made it clear that Microsoft would integrate the Internet into everything it did. Mr. Nadella, you face a similar decision today, do you fight the "webification" of communications or embrace it and make it your own?  You and your stockholders (including me) would be very happy if Microsoft stock went up anywhere near 872 percent in the next 10 years while on your watch. April 6, 2014 is only four months away -- isn't it time for Microsoft to make the bold move once again and integrate WebRTC into everything that Microsoft does?  

Edited by Rachel Ramsey
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