I've written about this before but a recent mail from David Stutz and rumblings about slipped dates pushed this topic to the forefront of my mind today. If you have competition whose mantra is to ship "little components that can be combined together" and "release early, release often" is it wise to counter this with a strategy that involves integrating monolithic applications into even larger applications those multiplying the complexity and dealing with integration issues?

On the one hand, no one can argue that the success of Microsoft Office isn't related to the fact that it is a suite of programs that work well together but on the other hand as David Stutz wrote in his farewell email

As the quality of this software improves, there will be less and less reason to pay for core software-only assets that have become stylized categories over the years: Microsoft sells OFFICE (the suite) while people may only need a small part of Word or a bit of Access. Microsoft sells WINDOWS (the platform) but a small org might just need a website, or a fileserver. It no longer fits Microsoft's business model to have many individual offerings and to innovate with new application software. Unfortunately, this is exactly where free software excels and is making inroads. One-size-fits-all, one-app-is-all-you-need, one-api-and-damn-the-torpedoes has turned out to be an imperfect strategy for the long haul.

Digging in against open source commoditization won't work - it would be like digging in against the Internet, which Microsoft tried for a while before getting wise. Any move towards cutting off alternatives by limiting interoperability or integration options would be fraught with danger, since it would enrage customers, accelerate the divergence of the open source platform, and have other undesirable results. Despite this, Microsoft is at risk of following this path, due to the corporate delusion that goes by many names: "better together," "unified platform," and "integrated software." There is false hope in Redmond that these outmoded approaches to software integration will attract and keep international markets, governments, academics, and most importantly, innovators, safely within the Microsoft sphere of influence. But they won't .

Exciting new networked applications are being written. Time is not standing still. Microsoft must survive and prosper by learning from the open source software movement and by borrowing from and improving its techniques. Open source software is as large and powerful a wave as the Internet was, and is rapidly accreting into a legitimate alternative to Windows. It can and should be harnessed. To avoid dire consequences, Microsoft should favor an approach that tolerates and embraces the diversity of the open source approach, especially when network-based integration is involved.

I don't agree with the general implication of David's comments but I do believe there is a grain of truth in what he writes. The issues aren't as black and white as he paints them but his opinions can't be written off either. The writing is definitely on the wall, I just wonder if anyone is reading it.