Microsoft intros Internet platform plans

Come hell or high courts, Microsoft Corp. will completely overhaul its software over the next two years in an effort to mold Windows into a platform for the Internet, the company said last month.

Microsoft made the declaration at its Forum 2000 event as it unveiled its new .Net (pronounced Dot Net) platform, which had been code-named Next Generation Windows Services. .Net will be defined by a new operating system, server applications and development tools, all heavily spiced with XML. The .Net platform will support software that runs as services over the Internet and executes on a host of intelligent devices.

With .Net, users will be able to customize the information they receive, when they receive it and how they view it on any number of devices. Enterprise customers will be able to build applications that support numerous clients and incorporate into applications chunks of program logic that exist on the Internet.

“This is completely a new platform and will affect every piece of code written,” says Bill Gates, chief software architect for Microsoft. “There is no Microsoft product that won’t be touched.”

Critics say the companywide integration effort flies in the face of Microsoft’s current legal troubles. But others say .Net validates what is already happening in the industry, including similar initiatives by the likes of Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co.

XML will become part of everything Microsoft does over the next 24 months as it turns its servers and applications into .Net products. Along with that, the company will develop intelligent clients, such as tablet PCs, that can execute some amount of logic. The effort is in contrast to other services models, in which the logic runs only on the server.

“Microsoft continues to make a case for the intelligent client,” says Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies in Kirkland, Wash. “That will resonate in a world where you can put computing power in many devices. If they can balance computing between the client and the server, they could have a compelling message.”

The .Net transformation will begin this year when Microsoft delivers its XML-based BizTalk Server 2000 and Visual Studio 7.0, which will support the building of .Net applications using the Simple Object Access Protocol.

Next year, Microsoft plans to deliver the next version of Windows, called Windows.Net 1.0, which will feature a number of extensions, including transaction and queuing services. It will be followed in 2002 with another Windows. Net version that will incorporate user interface features such as handwriting and voice.

Also next year, Microsoft will deliver up to four .Net services similar to its on-line authentication service Passport. The services run on the Internet and can be integrated into applications to provide such things as notification services. In 2002, Microsoft will offer other building-block services, such as on-line storage. Also in 2002, the company will deliver Office.Net, a hosted version of Office, and Visual Studio.Net.

“This is a long-term roadmap, but there are some short-term deliverables,” says Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft. “This is not something that will happen in the next two days. It will take two years to develop.”

Microsoft also introduced a host of new technologies it is developing to support .Net. The Universal Canvas is a client that integrates a browser, communications features, and document authoring and annotation. Microsoft also plans to introduce an Information Agent that manages a user’s identity and controls interaction among Web sites, services and the user.

Proponents of software as services hail Microsoft’s support of the concept.

“It’s not trivial that the largest seller of software is saying that software really is a service,” says Jack Serfass, co-founder of Bowstreet Software in Portsmouth, N.H. Bowstreet develops Business Web Factory, which creates a directory of Web services that can be assembled on the fly.

“Microsoft can play a major role but I don’t think one company will own the Internet platform like one owns the desktop operating system platform.”