SQL Server 2008 ... A Sign of Greatness or a Sign of Weakness?

Microsoft will ship SQL Server 2008 to customers in August, according to the company. I've written a bit about SQL Server 2008 over the past few months, including a commentary about the last of its many delays ("Microsoft Delays SQL Server 2008. So What?" http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/98148/microsoft-delays-sql-server-2008-so-what.html) and a more general look at the new functionality we can expect from this release ("A Look at SQL Server 2008," http://windowsitpro.com/article/articleid/97275/a-look-at-microsoft-sql-server-2008.html). So there's not much more to say about this version, other than this tidbit: It will ship in more product versions than any other SQL Server release to date and will include a new SQL Server 2008 Web edition aimed at web hosters. All in all, there are six SQL 2008 product versions coming down the pike.

Folks, it's time for an intervention.

Microsoft's product line-up has exploded in recent years because the software giant believes that over-specializing is the key to success. According to Microsoft's own numbers, so-called premium versions of its products outsell basic, less expensive versions by a wide margin. In fact, one might make the argument that hobbled, low-end products like Windows Vista Home Basic exist solely to make the other Vista versions look more impressive by comparison. That's a screwy bit of marketing, in my opinion.

If you were to ask Microsoft to explain, in very general terms, what its primary customer focus is going forward, I suspect you'd hear something about "removing the complexity." Microsoft is supposedly all about removing complexity, unless of course you're talking about the bottom line: Its product line, as previously noted, is amazingly complex. And don't get me started on the company's ever-evolving licensing options.

But I think there's a big difference between, say, making a better version of the Exchange administrative console and making Exchange available cheaply via Microsoft-hosted service as the company is doing with Microsoft Online Services (MOS). The former may ease some pain. But the latter really runs to the heart of the complexity issue, and tackles what I feel is going to be the most important computing trend of the coming decade: Non-technology companies no longer feel the need to support technology in-house. It's just too complex.

Microsoft can and should apply this kind of thinking to all its products. I'd start right at the top, with Windows. Today, Vista is too complex, too bifurcated from a product edition standpoint, and yet is still amazingly inapplicable to the fastest-growing end-user computing market today, the mobile market. (Witness the fact that Apple's flagship OS, Mac OS X, sits at the heart of the popular iPhone, while Microsoft has had to artificially throw Windows XP a lifeline to accommodate a surge in low-power mobile computers.)

Here's what I'm thinking. Microsoft, it's time to let go and admit that one Windows can't possibly adequately serve all of the many markets you do and will target. It's time to stop flogging a boring corporate OS on business users, and it's time to stop padding a perfectly serviceable business OS with fluffy consumer features. I'd like to see Microsoft split its Window group down the middle, with business and server on one side and consumer on the other. The two sides would use the same OS core (with the same hardware driver and software compatibility models) but have completely different UIs and features. There would be just three client versions of Windows: Business, Consumer, and Ultimate, the latter of which combines the features from both sides into a single product. Server should be paired down as well, along similar lines.

Simple, right? But maybe it's too simple for a company that, frankly, seems to be built on complexity.

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