Microsoft is building upon Windows 2000's claims to be the platform for assembling ebusiness applications with last week's launch of Microsoft.net. Microsoft's web strategy fleshes out its ebusiness road-map with XML-enhanced versions of SQL Server, Exchange Server, and just about everything else Microsoft ships.
Under Microsoft's web-push, a slew of products will be 'reborn' and later replaced with internet-based versions. Plans include an online version of Windows OS and Office suite, in the new Office.net. Later this year an XML-upgraded version of Microsoft Office is shipping.
Microsoft has been working on its internet strategy for five years and decided to make its bid for web ownership now while hosted services and Application Service Providers (ASPs) are all the rage.
Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) is the platform for this development. Microsoft said it will roll out new development tools next year which aim to increase collaboration between websites.
Handling data online
Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft, spilled the beans in Seattle last week that he's betting the company on .net.
Central to the move is the XML (eXtensible Markup Language) technology advocated by the world wide web consortium, swiftly being embraced by all major vendors as the way to handle all data online.
Not all parties were convinced by what they heard. Ian Brown, research director at Gartner Group, said: "It's going to be interesting to see just how Microsoft helps the world manage all of the .net stuff. Making your websites universally available is an interesting idea, but just what IT people inside large corporates will think of that as an idea remains to be seen."
He added: "Some of the stuff that [Microsoft executive] Paul Maritz talked about, such as Visual Studio 7.0 and BizTalk, are tangible, because they are due soon.
"But the other stuff seems to be a bit of a rehash of other strategies, and even though they talk about partnerships and other platforms, they are still just too PC focused."
Steve Ballmer, president of Microsoft, referred to XML as the lingua franca of the internet, the way that data is handled across connected machines, which allows the "ultimate in enterprise application integration".
Microsoft has said that the strategy would revolve around a new interface, called the Improved User Experience (IUE). The IUE will use "intelligent and intuitive Information Agents for desktop computers, servers and an array of devices including a new operating system, many server applications and an array of anticipated third party hosted services." The interface will be based on a Universal Canvas, an XML-based compound that allows secure viewing and editing of data, both online and offline, without the need to switch applications.
Court ruling could hamper plans
But other analysts were also disconcerted about the Redmond giant's plans, saying that Gates' ideas were flying in the face of the US court ruling. Jon Collins, senior analyst at Bloor Research, said that the strategy blurred the distinction between applications and operating systems, and the results of the court ruling could potentially delay the availability of .net.
"I can't see anything concrete coming out of this strategy," said Collins. "If people wait for Microsoft to deliver the web experience in the way they plan, they'll wait a long time."
In support of Microsoft's strategy, Kirsten Ludvigsen, analyst at IDC, said that Microsoft has been successful in making its software ubiquitous. "But this has been missing an open source kernel that partners can tailor to their needs. The use of XML will make it more open," she said.
At the forefront of Microsoft's internet campaign is an attack on its arch enemy, Sun, with development of a potential Java killer. Under the claim that "Java has had its day", Microsoft has announced a programming language called C# (C Sharp), based on a derivative of C and C++, with virtual machine functionality.
Oliver Roll, Microsoft's director of enterprise marketing, said that because Java was written to run on all machines, including low-end terminals with minimal processing power, it is limited in the services it can provide.
But Simon Moores, chairman of the Java Forum's Research Group warned: "Writing Java's obituary 24 hours after a company's own strategy announcement is very premature."
He said that Java's following by industry heavyweights such as IBM and Oracle would mean companies are reluctant to walk away from Java because of its open source model.
Collins said: "Microsoft says it wants to run the web, but it hasn't really announced anything new to run it with."
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