Betting it all on .NET

It appears as though Microsoft’s chief software architect has found his niche. Removed from the day-to-day hassle of running one of the world’s largest companies, CSA Bill Gates has introduced a new direction for the company.

Called Microsoft .NET, the new direction encompasses the next generation of Microsoft Corp.’s software and services that will allow users to access information over a myriad of devices that are interconnected via the Internet . If new data is entered through a cell phone, then the next time you log onto to your PC it will automatically be updated without the need for you to provide the integration.

The current problem, according to Gates, is that users live in a world where information is isolated on disparate islands. “It’s a manual operation to try to move your favourites [or] move your files,” Gates said at the recent Microsoft .NET announcement in Redmond, Wash. “So it’s up to the user to manage these islands.”

No longer, with .NET. “The .NET server takes that information and automatically federates it amongst all my other devices – and not just my devices,” Gates said. If you change an appointment on your PDA, the updated version will also be transferred to the PDA or PC of the person the appointment is with, he explained.

At the heart of it all is the Microsoft .NET platform, built on the standard integration fabric of XML and Internet protocols, according to the company. The platform is as much of a transition as the move from DOS to Windows, Gates said.

but will it work?

“I don’t have any question [that they can succeed] simply because they took care to show us some real technology,” said Dave Marshall, director of software research for IDC Canada in Toronto. He said quite often companies have a reputation of showing vapourware at these types of announcements.

“This does appear to me to be a well thought-out strategy,” he said. “I think this is an attempt to get out of that [old way of thinking], and say, ‘We are not just going to use the Internet to continue to do what we have always done. We are going to step out of that mould and take a look at how the whole thing can be re-utilized.’ That will allow the user to better utilize the technology,” he explained.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft detractors see it as too little too late.

“With Microsoft .NET and their next generation of Windows services, Microsoft is officially admitting three things: that the OS is irrelevant, that they have lost developer mind share and that its business model is out dated,” said David Rumer, director of e-business solutions for Oracle Corporation Canada Inc. in Mississauga, Ont.

“In essence, I think Microsoft is about five to six years late, or will be,” he added. “Microsoft is just now embarking on its Internet mission; in contrast Oracle is just putting the finishing touches on its [mission].”

Almost seeming to sense an Oracle strike, Steve Ballmer, president and CEO of Microsoft, went pre-emptive. “Oracle is a good competitor. They are a software company; they’ve got some pretty good technology. But they, too, take a very centralized view and their view doesn’t largely involve the end user,” he said.

“There’s no user experience aspect to what they’re doing. They’ve done some work with XML [and] have more work to do.”

will people wait?

Everyone has work to do and it remains to be seen if developers and others will wait for Microsoft, which has admitted its dream is still several years from fruition.

IDC’s Marshall said a lot is still up in the air. “I think they are being very fair. Bill Gates was pretty clear to say, ‘Look this is probably at least two years out.’ In two years of the world progressing, who knows what is going to happen,” he said.

Rene Bonvanie, Oracle’s vice-president of e-business marketing, also had a go at the Microsoft vision. “I don’t think Microsoft has really understood, for the last two or three years, how they can get developers on board with (its) message. I think they have alienated their developers a lot more than they think. The success of Oracle Technology Network…is largely due to Microsoft’s failings.”

With the possibility of a Microsoft breakup, is any of that toying in the back of the corporate psyche, and if so which Baby Bill will get the .NET if the company is divided?

“We don’t think, with respect to the government, their role is in designing software,” said Simon Witts, president of Microsoft Canada in Mississauga, Ont.

“We are not, frankly, factoring in anything the government says as to what we are going to do next. I think the most important thing for our company right now is to stay focused on innovating,” he said.

“You could say it’s a bet-the-company thing,” Gates said. “We are putting our resources behind .NET because we believe in this.”