Timing's right for MS .Net

Microsoft quietly purchased WebAppoint.com in a move that should beef up its upcoming .Net suite of services. WebAppoint organises online scheduling for everything from car repairs to dentist appointments
Written by Mary Jo Foley, Senior Contributing Editor on

Microsoft is preparing to add online appointment scheduling to its suite of services for its upcoming software-as-a-service strategy, according to sources.

Microsoft quietly bought WebAppoint.com, a privately held company, for an undisclosed sum in October. The acquisition was announced only in Microsoft's most recent quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The addition of WebAppoint, which allows for online scheduling for such items as car repair or dentist appointments, is a crucial element in Microsoft's ambitious software-as-a-service strategy, known as .Net.

WebAppoint links consumers and companies and offers extra features, such as confirmation of appointments via phone or fax. The start-up's service was launched in the fall 1999.

Microsoft is expected to advance the WebAppoint technology and initially launch it later this year as one of its services on Microsoft's bCentral small-business Web site, according to sources.

Company representatives confirmed on Wednesday the purchase of WebAppoint.com. Microsoft already has two pilot projects in place where it is testing WebAppoint, said Satya Nadella, vice president of Microsoft's bCentral. Microsoft plans to field a text version of WebAppoint by the end of the second quarter, he said.

"WebAppoint already exists as a service. It already exports appointments into Outlook as a form," Nadella said. "Now we're doing a bunch of work to integrate WebAppiont with our other (bCentral) services, especially our customer contact management and CRM," or customer relationship management.

Microsoft hopes to attract interest on at least two fronts for WebAppoint: customers interested in using an online scheduling tool as part of a larger CRM service, and those interested in using WebAppoint as a time-management tool in its own right. He said Microsoft expects WebAppoint to appeal to small-business owners.

Meta Group analyst Will Zachmann said Microsoft's Web services puzzle is gradually being pieced together.

"Web services is the third generation of the Internet. It's all about exposing interfaces that do something other than just serve up information," Zachmann said. "And .Net is about exposing Web services. BCentral and MSN are instances of Microsoft exposing Web services that are now or will be connected somehow with .Net."

Microsoft already offers a number of online services on its bCentral site. These include free services, such as Business Auctions business-to-business auction and its FastCounter Web-site traffic monitor. Microsoft also offers a number of fee-based services on bCentral, such as its recently introduced Commerce Manager and Customer Manager, which are software applications available on a hosted, rental basis.

Once the acquisition of Great Plains Software is final later this year, Microsoft is also expected to add a number of small-business accounting services to its bCentral lineup.

A few other services have also fallen in step with .Net plans, such as Microsoft's Passport Internet authentication service and its ClearLead lead-management product. These services have the potential of being worked in to more complex Web applications and services.

Microsoft's stealth Netdocs project -- if it ends up seeing the light of day -- is also an example of another .Net service from Microsoft. According to sources, Netdocs is a single, integrated application that will include a full suite of functions, including email, personal information management, document-authoring tools, digital-media management and instant messaging.

Simultaneously, Microsoft is working with third-party companies, such as auction giant eBay, to build Web services that are founded on Microsoft's .Net infrastructure and building-block technologies. Microsoft announced on Monday its deal to work with eBay on evolving eBay's API development platform. Further complicating the picture is the imminent arrival of Hailstorm, which is a set of .Net building-block technologies that Microsoft is expected to position as a key part of its overall .Net initiative.

Hailstorm, which Microsoft is expected to unveil officially March 19, will incorporate next-generation versions of a number of Microsoft's existing services -- such as its Hotmail email, MSN Messenger instant messaging, and Passport products -- and make them available to developers building XML-based Web services.

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