Microsoft: The next generation, Part III

Microsoft still PC-centric

Microsoft is expected to show off a new user interface that runs on all kinds of Pocket PC, cell phone and other devices when it debuts NGWS. The natural-language-based portallike interface may or may not be based on the future MSN architecture, code-named Mars, on which Microsoft has been working.

But Microsoft is not moving completely toward a thin-client or no-client architecture, like some of its competitors, such as Sun Microsystems, are doing. That's because Microsoft is too dependent on fat clients running on PCs to give up on PCs or three-tier architectures altogether.

Nor will Microsoft's back-end operating system or application software be getting any slimmer, say sources. Instead, Microsoft applications like Exchange and SQL Server merely will become easier to distribute, and thus better suited to running in hosted configurations. And Exchange Server's Web Store will become the default repository, or storage facility, for the XML objects and XML schema that developers and customers can use to build programmable Web sites and apps.

The Microsoft product that will be undergoing the biggest NGWS-inspired transformation will be Visual Studio 7, the next version of Microsoft's development environment, currently due out at the end of calendar 2000. Besides retrofitting VB7 to incorporate support for XML, Microsoft is adding Active Server Pages Plus (ASP-plus) and a new forms-based programming capability to the product that will allow developers to more easily write Web-enabled applications and publish them to the Web.

Microsoft officials have said the overriding goal of NGWS will be to make programming so simple that even end users can write Web-enabled apps. Forms are one way the company will deliver on its simplicity promise. Megaservices are another. Megaservices, according to Microsoft's definition, are hosted Web components from Microsoft and third parties that can be snapped together to create Internet-enabled apps and sites. Microsoft thus far has rolled out two megaservices: its Passport Internet-authentication service and ClearLead contact-management service.

While Microsoft will have its work cut out for it, in terms of making these kinds of plumbing changes understandable to anyone other than sophisticated programmers, no one can say it won't give it the old college try.

CEO and President Steve Ballmer already has been expounding on the NGWS gospel in recent months.

"Literally, every application category that exists today will be changed (by NGWS)," Ballmer told attendees of a Goldman Sachs technology symposium in February.

"There will be nobody who will be able to survive if they don't morph their application into one of these Web services. There will be hundreds of new startups again that focus in on this next-generation opportunity because the kind of functionality that you'll be able to provide will simply be so dramatically different that no Web site and no application vendor will not seize the opportunity."

If Ballmer can get the market as fired up as he is, NGWS might enable Microsoft to reinvent itself -- before the government has a chance to do so.

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