Microsoft, IBM, Sun among vendors tweaking platforms to handle emerging Internet-based services

Even as the pending release of Microsoft Windows 2000 promises to shake up the operating system landscape in the coming year, the IT industry’s platform providers are busy redefining the ways that companies deliver and design software and services over the Internet.

Microsoft Corp., IBM Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. are separately rebuilding their operating systems and middleware around the model of Internet-based services that corporate customers can connect to from the Internet, rather than installing a single, all-encompassing platform. If effective, this services approach could save customers money on IT resources and speed development time, proponents say.

Microsoft’s Next Generation Windows, a project that will bring chairman and chief software architect Bill Gates closer to the development fold, will introduce a design that will let customers pay for services such as voice over IP on the Internet, according to company officials.

“We want to infuse into our [operating] system services the way we infused Internet technology,” said Jim Allchin, group vice-president of Microsoft’s platforms group. As an example, Allchin suggested a service where auction and banking sites could each deploy schemas necessary to allow for programmatic decisions to be made “easily on the client.

“When an auction item hits a certain price you could transfer money from your bank account over into the auction automatically,” Allchin said. “You could do that regardless of whether it’s client or server. You could programmatically set this up as a set of rules.”

Microsoft will further detail its Next Generation Windows initiative at Forum 2000 in April.

A source familiar with Microsoft’s plan said that this Windows upgrade will not see the light of day for three years. The more modular version will be rewritten “almost from scratch, right down to the kernel,” opening the door for incompatibilities with existing Microsoft operating systems, the source said.

“Basically, Bill [Gates] has finally come to the realization that the desktop is no longer the centre of the universe, that there are other systems out there. So in order to effectively compete in the future, they’re going to need something more server-based,” said Anne Thomas, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston.

Meanwhile, IBM is reworking its middleware products so that ISPs, ASPs and ISVs can offer their applications in a rented model.

Part of its Next Generation initiative, the next full-point release of IBM’s core middleware products – including DB2 and MQSeries – will be revamped with Internet application services in mind, said Richard Sullivan, vice-president of Integrated Solution marketing for IBM’s software solutions division. IBM is also developing a rental model for these middleware products for ASPs that don’t want to buy these software components, he added.

Middleware products designed and branded for application hosting will be released starting in the next six months, Sullivan said.

“Most of the application industry will have to redo their applications for rentable applications,” Sullivan said. “The direction the industry is moving is a core operating system and rentable services on top of it.”

Sun will focus on Jini and Java as the keys to delivering services.

“Operating systems as we know and love them, as a large platform, [are] going to be supplanted, probably by much more narrowly focused operating system layers that will support services architecture, where the code will be delivered to a device or machine,” said Richard Gabriel, a engineer at Sun.