Company bets on XML and networks
by Tony Waltham
3 July 2000 - 'As big as the transition from DOS to Windows," was how Microsoft chairman and chief software architect, Bill Gates, characterised the software giant's plans to deploy a new platform called .NET (pronounced "dot-net") that would enable software as a service across the Internet to PCs and devices.
All Microsoft products "would be touched" by this new strategy that has the public XML standard at its core, Mr Gates explained at the official launch of Next Windows Generation Services, renamed simply ".NET".
The promise is that Microsoft.NET will enable a transformation in the way that software is used and in the way that information is accessed, a line-up of top Microsoft executives explained last week. Microsoft.NET would redefine the user interface and the user experience for software developers as well as for end users in the home and in businesses of all sizes, they claimed.
Developers will get the first opportunity to create applications to enableNET services using Visual Studio 7, which is scheduled for a July 11 launch, and they will be the primary focus for Microsoft.
The announcement last week was a preview of a new platform that Microsoft sees as heralding the next generation of computing and the Internet, one that brings a clean slate in terms of the user interface. The new platform also anticipates further breakthroughs in hardware and advances in wireless communications that will enable voice and handwriting recognition to provide a natural human interface.
"We are very bullish on wireless in the workplace.. and the home, where there would be breakthroughs with photographs and music distributed around the house where there would be various screens," Gates said, noting that Universal PnP (plug and play) would help enable this. Mr Gates, who stepped aside to hand the CEO position to Steve Ballmer to manage this product some six months ago, explained that the user interface had been redefined from the ground upwards, and that the appearance of applications would be quite different.
He said that while compound documents had been a Windows advancement, with Microsoft.NET XML data would be presented in a universal canvas, and users would no longer need to leave the browser, even when doing creative work.
There was an analogy for every element of Windows across all the different devices and for what goes on "in the cloud," Mr Gates said by way of referring to the Internet.
Microsoft.NET comprises infrastructure and tools to build and operate the new generation of services, and will provide rich clients with building block services and device software to enable a new breed of smart Internet devices. Microsoft.NET products and services will include Windows.NET, with a core integrated set of building block services-MSN.NET, personal subscription services, Office.NET, Visual Studio.NET and bCentral forNET.
Microsoft will also encourage third-party services, with CEO Steve Ballmer stressing the importance of partnerships in enabling the success of Windows. At the unveiling of the strategy at its corporate headquarters, Microsoft played videos of several CEOs of partner companies endorsing the strategy, including Dell Computer, Compaq, Sony and Andersen Consulting.
"We are betting on a transformation of the software industry, on Internet and on XML, on decentralised computing, on a new user experience, on user confidence in privacy and security and on Windows 2000 foundation, on subscription business models and on partnerships," Mr Ballmer told Press and analysts gathered for the event last Thursday. Asked whether the Department of Justice court ruling might have any impact on Microsoft's plans, Mr Ballmer said that Microsoft's focus was consistently on building the right software for developers and users, and it had not modified this.
"Today's announcement reflects this... and we expect to prevail as one company... With the stay that we received this week, we are proceeding with this plan," he added, although he admitted to frustration that the timing of the ruling two weeks ago had caused the announcement to be delayed. The MicrosoftNET strategy is a long-term plan and for the next 12 to 24 months it was expected that the company's revenues would mostly come from traditional sources, as the "transformation of web sites into web services" slowly gains momentum. Conceding that in some respects Microsoft.NET as a suite of products and services was harder to explain than standalone software, Mr Ballmer said that it represented a programming interface that supported the next generation of the Internet as a platform.
He added: "It is an enabling environment for that. It is also a user environment, a set of fundamental user services that live on the client, on the server and in the cloud as appropriate. Plus it is a set of developer experiences. "In code sets, it is a set of software that runs on clients in devices, wireless devices, on PCs, in servers behind firewalls on the public Internet. Plus (it is) a set of services that Microsoft will operate that other third parties can share," Mr Ballmer said.