MS .Net: Integration to the max

Federation. Orchestration. Whatever Microsoft calls it, "integration" is the watchword for its next generation of products and services

At Forum 2000, Microsoft's day-long rollout of its software-as-a-service .Net strategy, none of the Microsoft officials speaking at the event mentioned the company's ongoing antitrust lawsuit with the US Department of Justice.

But Microsoft's point was clear: without integration, Microsoft's .Net strategy won't work.

Integration is one of the main bones of contention in the DoJ vs Microsoft case, and judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has made it clear he wants Microsoft to be required to stop integrating its products -- and the company itself.

"We are taking elements of the user interface and programming model, and nicely and tightly integrating them, first into the client, and then into the server," Microsoft chief executive and president Steve Ballmer told attendees.

On Thursday, Microsoft rechristened its entire product line going forward with .Net-based names. Microsoft .Net is the final name for the company's Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) architecture.

The Whistler and follow-up releases of Windows are now called Windows.Net; the Visual Studio 7 Microsoft tool suite is now Visual Studio.Net. The release of Office, due out in 2002 or later, becomes Office.Net; and the next release of Microsoft Network, due out after 2001, is now MSN.Net.

In discussing MSN.Net, Microsoft Group vice president Rick Belluzzo told the press and analysts attending the Washington event that the company is "making services more deeply integrated."

Integrated services are "the areas we are investing most heavily in," Beluzzo said.

Belluzzo showed a Microsoft-produced video depicting how a family would make use of near and longer-term MSN services, such as Microsoft's instant messaging, user identification, personalization and collaboration.

"The interaction of these services will eliminate all the time it takes" to switch between user environments and devices in Microsoft's new vision, Belluzzo said.

Belluzzo said that MSN.Net, due out in 2001, will offer two classes of services in the areas of entertainment, productivity and gaming: programmed consumer experience services and consumer subscription services.

These services will run on a variety of platforms, including PCs, Web Companion Internet appliances, WebTV and Pocket PC.

Integration of programmable components and services is key to Microsoft's development-tools strategy going forward, the company said.

"Web-enabled means more than HTML and browsing," said Paul Maritz, Microsoft group vice president. "It's about integrating Internet applications and services, integrating the Internet and internal corporate infrastructure."

Maritz demonstrated a precursor to the first Visual Studio 7 alpha release, which Microsoft plans to provide to attendees of its Professional Developers Conference in mid-July. Visual Studio 7, aka Visual Studio.Net, is due to ship commercially in 2001.

Maritz highlighted the "drag and drop" development metaphor that Microsoft is moving to with its next tool suite release. He showed the Visual Studio 7 toolbox that includes a variety of forms-based tools and Web services components, such as a Passport authentication, billing, credit authorisation and calendaring.

Manitz said Microsoft will set up Windows 2000 and Active Directory to integrate these services and building blocks with a digital-rights system that gives developers and users the permissions to collaborate on the next iteration of Web-enabled apps.

He also said that Microsoft is working to make Web hosting a single click from within its development environment, but didn't elaborate on what that meant.

While Microsoft's message is that services ultimately will replace packaged software, it will take the company years to make that happen, officials said.

Ballmer told Forum 2000 attendees that for the foreseeable future, Microsoft will continue to derive the majority of its revenue from selling Windows and applications to PC makers and/or Windows licenses.

"This is a long-term transition," Ballmer said. "We will sell versions of Office and Windows as we do now for many more years to come."

Over the long term, the company will gain an increasing share of its revenue from different sources -- for example, licensing its .Net building blocks to developers and customers and selling MSN, Office, development tool, and small-business services via subscription services.

"We're expanding the range of our offer in significant ways," Ballmer predicted.

Take me to the DoJ/Microsoft special.

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