MS revisits Internet strategy

Company outlines deliverables for making Web development easier.

On Monday, Microsoft revisited, for the first time in a major way since 1995, its original Internet strategy.

Four years ago, Microsoft's overarching message was that it planned to Internet-enable all of its future system and application software. Monday, the company's message was substantially different. Over the next couple of years, Microsoft plans to bring to developers -- via the Internet and the Windows 2000 operating system -- everything they need to make writing Web-enabled apps of their own easier.

The company made a number of product and roadmap announcements in San Francisco, California, to fill out some of the hints its executives have given over recent months as to the company's future Web plans. In the short term, Microsoft will beef up the plumbing for Web developers in its forthcoming Windows 2000 operating system, officials said. It will do this via the COM+, MSMQ and Internet Information Server 5.0 middleware infrastructure it is building into Windows 2000. Company officials said that Microsoft expects to issue this week its Windows 2000 Release Candidate 2 build, one of the final milestones on the way to its final version of Windows 2000, which Microsoft has said it hopes to be able to deliver before the end of this year. All of the 650,000 Windows 2000 Beta 3 testers will be shipped RC2, Microsoft officials have said.

Microsoft also will roll out early next year an update to its Visual Studio tool suite that will make developing web services more intuitive, the company promises. On top of Windows 2000, Microsoft will layer a number of new servers: its SQL Server 8.0 (code-named Shiloh), Host Integration Server (code-named Babylon), next-generation Commerce Server product, BizTalk XML Server and its AppCenter Server product designed to manage clustered server farms.

All of these are post-Windows 2000 deliverables, making them "immediate term" products in Microsoft parlance. Microsoft has said privately to developers to expect these to begin arriving six to nine months after Windows 2000 ships, making them Q3 2000 products, at best. While most of these servers are expected to be part of the next full-fledged BackOffice update, Microsoft (just to make things interesting) is now calling this collection Windows Distributed interNet Architecture (DNA) 2000.

In the long term -- some time in the post 2000 timeframe -- Microsoft will make sure all its operating system and BackOffice servers are XML-enabled. XML is a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C)-endorsed technology aimed at allowing data, components, business processes and applications to interoperate over the Web. Microsoft also will enable developers to download from Microsoft and selected third parties Web services -- like Microsoft's Passport or Nordstrom's catalogue service shown during the Microsoft event on Monday. Microsoft has used interchangeably the terms "Internet APIs" and "megaservices" to describe these components.

Microsoft president Steve Ballmer first tipped Microsoft's hand on its Internet API plans at the company's financial analyst meeting this summer. Microsoft CEO Bill Gates last autumn outlined in a memo Microsoft's intent to develop a so-called "Megaserver" capability from which a number of developer- and user-specific services would be available. Microsoft is expected to use MSN as the primary "pipe" for these services, although services like community, web promotion, electronic bill paying and the like could be downloadable from anywhere.

On a related note and simultaneous with Monday's Web development announcements, Microsoft announced that its Complete Commerce hosting program for Application Service Providers is now in general availability. Microsoft launched the commerce-hosting program as a pilot in November 1998 with 10 service providers, a group that has since expanded to 25. The program is open to any ASPs "seeking a full solution for hosting outsourced business-to-consumer direct selling commerce solutions for medium and large enterprises", according to Microsoft.

The commerce hosting program is one of several hosting test programs underway at Microsoft. Late last week, the company announced a partnership with Qwest Communications International to create technology and business guidelines for Certified Network Commercial Services hosting partners.

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