As vice-president of the platforms group at Microsoft Corp., Jim Allchin helps decide which technologies will comprise new and updated operating systems developed by Microsoft. In that capacity, Allchin must determine when any given capability is ready for prime time on a Windows platform. In an interview with InfoWorld Editor in Chief Michael Vizard, Allchin tells how Web services will change the way businesses use applications and how the Microsoft .NET architecture provides a framework for Web services.

Vizard: Right now a lot of people are talking about the concept of Web services and the potential of software component architectures. What’s your take on this emerging set of technologies?

Allchin: I’m super excited about the concept of being able to describe the methods that are available to turn a Web site into a service so that you can send a set of XML messages over [SOAP (Simple Object Access Protocol)] and get responses back. Web sites can then be programmed through a client, regardless of the client device. I think we’re sitting on top of that, and I think we’re spending a great deal of time in the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) trying to create an open programming model for that.

Within the next few months, you will see how Windows XP, for example, could be a great client with apps written on it to take advantage of some of the Web services that people are doing. And you don’t have to re-engineer your Web site to make it accessible through programming instead of just through dumb browsers.

This opens up an incredible set of potential applications, such as having an auction site that can automatically look for an item, and then when it reaches a certain bid, it will then go to your bank and transfer funds to the person who put that item on sale.

Vizard: Where else is this type of capability likely to change the way we interact using the Internet?

Allchin: If I have a bank and a brokerage company, and I want to see on one screen an aggregate of the total I have in my bank and the total in the brokerage firm, I can’t do this today. I have to bring up two windows, and I certainly can’t do a calculation between them. Imagine you had the ability to do a total across these two locations. Wouldn’t that be wonderful? The technology is essentially almost here in order to do that.

Vizard: How does Microsoft .NET fit into this possibility?

Allchin: I believe the company is very clear on what it is, and there are five simple points.

The first concept is that just like there was a move from character mode to GUI mode, there is a new programming model taking place. And we made the decision that, in order to create this model, we’re going to have to be very open about its constructs. There’s going to be nothing proprietary about it. So we went and spent time with IBM and others on [UDDI (Universal Description, Discovery, and Integration), XML, and SOAP] and a whole series of other things. We also went to [European Computer Manufacturers’ Association (ECMA)] and tried to provide the underpinnings for people to write code using a language-independent model. We’re trying to be an industry leader and give back to the world to get us out of this simplistic 3270 [host access] world which we’re in now. We can have a richer programming environment.

The next step is that we decided that there was a need for a set of Web services. Let me just call them meta-Internet services. They form a core set of pieces that other Web services and clients can use to integrate different Web services together. We’re going to provide these things on the Internet for many to use.

The next level is the fact that we’ve created a set of very cool tools to create these Web services and to use them. The first step of that is something called the Visual Studio .NET toolset, which we haven’t shipped yet, but a lot of beta testers are using it. That’s where C# is. Again, you don’t have to use our tools to create these applications, but we think our tools are actually pretty good for that task.

The fourth level is based on how our clients and servers fit into this. Our clients are going to have built into them the ability to take advantage of Web services. And on the server side, they’re generally just the plumbing that goes underneath a Web service.

And the last point is that Microsoft itself is going to sell some services based on all this stuff, meaning [through] MSN and B-Central. And that is what .NET is about.

Vizard: What’s the current adoption rate for Windows 2000?

Allchin: We’re on plan. It depends on client versus server because it varies on the geographies. I don’t want to drill into that, but I can say there are some differences there. The Euro hurt us a little bit. But we have generally been on plan even in the more hard times economically. We’ll see how this quarter goes and the next quarter.

Vizard: You have previously stated that the directory is core to the Windows 2000 platform. With the release of Windows XP, what will Microsoft be doing to make it easier for customers to deploy the directory?

Allchin: We’ve had some feedback that says that in a situation where your company is doing lots of mergers and acquisitions or when it’s selling off pieces of the company and you’ve got lots of scattered domains, then [deploying the directory] is not as easy as it should be. That is something that we are looking to improve on in Whistler [Windows XP]. That’s the biggest area of information that I’ve gotten on our directory from customers. We have created more tools, and in particular we’ve created a lot more documents. We didn’t have to wait for another release to do this. But a new release helps people sort of lay out how you approach it.

Vizard: What else should people expect from Windows XP?

Allchin: We took the [Windows] 2000 system and enhanced it so that XP would be more reliable through new techniques that we used. We then took a different design approach for the user interface. Some people could say it’s radically different, and some people would say it’s just incrementally different. The thing that I think is interesting is that we took a different design principle which is more task-oriented. We haven’t taken it through the entire system, but the results for both experienced and new users is that they really like it, and it helps them get through a set of tasks.

There’s a bunch of other base-level features that I think are very cool. You can take a snapshot and bring it back to a particular time of the day. That was somewhat in Windows ME, but it really is spectacular in Windows XP. There’s basically no drag on performance and the system is super smart. You can add a driver to the system and it does a checkpoint of every change that’s going on. So in case somebody installs an unsigned driver that messes with the registry, you just push a button and it’s back the way it was. I just think that’s super cool.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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