Once DOS became the de facto PC desktop standard in the 1980s, Microsoft perfected a technique called “embrace and extend” and sometimes “embrace, extend, and extinguish.” The idea was to adopt outside technologies, extend DOS to include them, then eliminate as a competitor the original developer of the technology. This was before Microsoft figured out that it actually needed third-party developers.
Lots of utilities became part of DOS and later Windows this way (remember Stac electronics?). They were initially provided for free to Redmond by their authors with the idea that users would upgrade to a paid version, only users mainly didn’t upgrade because good enough was, well, good enough. So the originating companies then tended to die.
Microsoft wasn’t alone in using this technique. Apple uses it still in OS X. And the most recent adherent of “embrace and extend” looks to be Amazon.com, which may be starting to embrace some of the more successful technologies based on its Amazon Web Services (AWS). Watch out!
AWS, which most people think of as EC2 computing and S3 storage but actually contains a dozen or more cloud-based services, has become a quick and easy way to bring new Internet services to market with little or no capital by launching them on AWS and paying with a credit card. But given that Amazon is hosting all these new companies it shouldn’t be at all surprising that the company has learned a lot from that hosting experience and may covet some of these new businesses.
The AWS-based business I have in mind today is DropBox, the incredibly successful data storage and synchronization service that runs on AWS. Amazon’s Kindle group in Cupertino is apparently readying their own DropBox clone. This makes sense for a couple reasons: 1) Amazon is already supplying (and being paid for) 90 percent of what we think of as DropBox, and; 2) the Kindle platform could use a better store-and-sync capability.
It’s sync that DropBox has right now and Kindle/Amazon does not, but how hard can it be to add that capability? Not very. And how hard is it to imagine expanding a Kindle-specific syncing service to supporting in the near future any Internet-connected device. It’s not hard at all.
In its role as DropBox host, Amazon must know nearly as much about that business as DropBox does. Amazon might well know more than DropBox, actually, since it sees those numbers in the context of all AWS customers — information that I doubt DropBox gets to see.
So there’s a potential downside to being able to start a global data service with just a credit card. But I doubt this will dissuade many startups because AWS still has many advantages and it’s flattering in a way to be considered good enough to steal.