Web 2.0 Expo: The Conspicuously Absent

While continuing to be impressed with the energy and enthusiasm at this event, the well trafficked and enjoyable trade show area (especially the fun Long Tail area) and the people I’m interacting with, I’m also struck by the conspicuous absence of two vendors who should be here in full force.

You’ll understand why Apple and Microsoft are conspicuously absent in a moment when you consider the true magnitude of the flux in the Web 2.0 and the chasm between it and what’s being dubbed “Enterprise 2.0”. Add to that the immaturity of tools and approaches and you’ll see that all things 2.0 is a *very* early shift from desktop/server platforms to the Internet-as-a-platform and we’ve got a long way to go before this is mainstream.

Apple and Microsoft are arguably the front-ends connecting people to the Internet/Web and are also the hubs for user generated video, audio, image, textual and visualization content. Microsoft especially has both the front end, much of the current enabling toolsets (e.g., Expression tools) and back end server solutions — though almost all the Web 2.0 development is using open source tools and approaches. Even with Mix ’07 coming up as Microsoft’s showcase event (which they control in total and where they’ll surely make a huge splash with Silverlight), if they were confident in their approach and tools and were ready to pitch them to the developer ecosystem they’d be here. I would expect that they’ll position, spin and demonstrate how all their tools will take Web application development far beyond the one-off Ajax development, Ruby on Rails or other Web 2.0 paradigms at Mix which most developers I know would argue with vehemently.

Apple has essentially walked away from their Java-based WebObjects platform and Jobs has stated publicly that the enterprise isn’t their target but rather the millions of consumers in the world. I remember the excitement and evangelism that developers had for the WebObjects approach when first delivered by NeXT, Steve Jobs’ company he started after getting the boot from Apple. No one can argue with Jobs’ turnaround of Apple which — when started in 1996 and at the early days of the Web — surely didn’t include much emphasis on the corporate space or a toolset like WebObjects and the wisdom of this is clear to anyone who has heard of an iPod.

So where will Apple play? The front end only? Maybe a front end to Google’s back end “supercomputer” (as Eric Schmidt called Google in yesterday’s interview with John Batelle) with tools that let everyman assemble web services into an application (read my Prediction: Apple Will Own Mass Market Web Applications)? Or don’t they care yet since it’s too early?

Will Microsoft beat Adobe to the “rich, internet application” container space by making Silverlight the preferred target for Web/desktop hybrid applications over Apollo?  Will Microsoft’s toolsets be a multiplier and accelerator for building Web applications and be SO GOOD that other, open source approaches whither and die? How will Adobe react to the Microsoft Expression suite of tools that tie the designers or “brushstroke” creators to the backend “keystroke” programmers?

Unfortunately Apple wants a controlled event of their own for releasing *anything* and Microsoft is moving down that same path with Mix. It’s too bad since anyone in this emerging space would be better off if all the key vendors were participating in a single venue that early adopters could attend to get a comprehensive perspective.

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