Microsoft and the Business of the Social Media Web

Earlier today I wrote a post here about the introduction of the open source blogging platform called Oxite by Microsoft. Ya, I know people are having a real hard time comprehending using Microsoft and Open Source in the same sentence but miracles can happen. Anyway, this got me thinking about Microsoft, open source, social media and whether they can really make any in-roads with the software we use to build and use social media services.

The simple answer I think is – they won’t.

The full answer is a little more complex because while it may seem that there are different pieces of the puzzle to figure out they are really just distractions. After all Microsoft has been making a lot of really good moves along it’s traditional lines of developer involvement.

They have done things like make Visual Studio Express available for free which makes entry into designing services easy. They have embraced things like AJAX and Javascript from within those developer tools. Heck they have even made an Express version of Microsoft SQL so that we can have the desperately need database component to these services.

However all this is fine until it comes time to take those services live or to use platforms based on software built using Microsoft tools. It all comes down to one critical part of this equation – the database.

I would estimate that about 99% of all social media related services and apps are built on non-Microsoft platforms. Whether they be PHP, Django, Ruby on Rails or some other obscure language they are all dealing with databases and the most popular is MySQL.

It’s not that MySQL is better that Microsoft SQL Server; most heavy duty database people will argue over this, it is the fact that it is free. Microsoft SQL Server isn’t. Now this might not seem like much of a big deal to just the average user of Social Media services but for the developers and hosting companies running these services it is.

Ask anyone who has gone looking for even the simplest of hosting services. You have two choices. You can go with Linux based servers running MySQL for a certain price or you can go for servers running Windows for a slightly higher price and have to pay extra for the MS SQL Server access.

Granted the Windows servers are more expensive right off the bat because host (and developers) have all those Windows license to pay for. That kind of cost though gets spread out; but the cost of MS SQL Server is a per seat (per client). This means that hosting companies (or developers) have to pay for how many people will connect to the SQL database.

Sure Microsoft has made an Express version of SQL Server available for free but this like the dev tools is geared more for the hobbyist or; I believe, non-profits. It isn’t the same deal for development for money – even in social media where everything is suppose to be free.

I remember when social networking and social media were just starting to gain traction and hearing of terms like LAMP; which meant Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. With the installation of one single package you had all the tools you needed; for free, to get yourself up and running with a new service idea.

This wasn’t the case if you wanted to go with any of the Microsoft platforms. The big hold back though as far as I am concerned for any broad adoption of social media services built on Microsoft tools is the database. It’s expensive and sometime prohibitively so.

Let’s come a bit of a circle. Now we have Microsoft making some serious noises around things like cloud computing and blogging platforms. With Oxite being made open source it is an open invitation for bloggers; and developers, to seriously consider them as an alternative; but it won’t work.

Unless you are already an establish blogging network; or a solo blogger making good money, having to pay extra for Windows hosting is hard enough. Add on the extra cost hosting companies will charge for MS SQL access and well – it won’t work.

Now just imagine the cost that developers of social media services will incur both through the development phase of their project. Top that off with the running costs of all those connections to the database and it makes no sense; unless you have a lot of money behind you and a solid business plan for making money. Given that most social media projects are just a wing and a prayer it makes no sense.

So what can Microsoft do to change this?

Oxite and other moves that have made are a great start but if they really wanted to make this a game changer they need to set SQL Server free. I’m not suggesting that in all cases; after all it is one of their best cash cows and it powers a shitload of business. What I am saying is make a good rock solid version freely available to web hosts and developers. Not the Express version with its limitations but a version without any limitations.

I really think that if Microsoft was to do this they could really change the business of social media on the web.

What do you think?