At a technical workshop devoted to Internet Explorer 4.0 here today, the software giant publicly discussed a feature known as "package management" for the first time, which will allow systems managers to transmit and manage software applications across networks. The new technology is part of an overall Internet research and development effort that will cost the software giant $1.5 billion in the coming year, according to Paul Maritz, group vice president of Microsoft.
The company has, for months, promoted the basic push capabilities of Explorer 4.0--that is, the ability for information publishers to automatically broadcast news headlines, sports scores, and other data to users. But Marimba, a software start-up, has staked out the upper echelon of push, positioning its Castanet as a tool for centrally administering applications rather than information.
Microsoft's package management capability will be part of the next version of its Java Virtual Machine (JVM), due out in July for Windows 95 and NT as part of the next beta of Explorer 4.0. As with Castanet, IS managers will be able to automatically install Java and ActiveX applications on users' computers. In addition, IS managers will be able to replace only outdated versions of an application, rather than having to needlessly install new programs on all computers.
Microsoft is integrating the package management feature with the channel definition format (CDF), a proposed technology standard Web sites can use to schedule delivery of pushed data. Microsoft says that, unlike Castanet, its software broadcasting solution does not require a specialized server to transmit data.
It remains to be seen, though, whether ordinary Web servers will be able to handle software distribution and management as well as Marimba's technology. "We're delivering a software solution that is very cross-platform," Marimba's chief technology officer Arthur van Hoff said.
"What Microsoft will have to offer will work great on the Active Desktop. For someone trying to deliver a home banking application that is platform-agnostic, Microsoft will not work well," he added.
By incorporating software management capabilities with push technology, Marimba and Microsoft hope to automate the time-consuming, tedious process of installing software on PCs. Their efforts are consistent with a larger movement in the industry to reduce the total cost of owning and maintaining PCs.
Netscape Communications has promised to bundle Marimba's client Tuner software with its forthcoming Netcaster push technology.
At its workshop today, Microsoft emphasized momentum behind two key technologies: CDF and Dynamic HTML, a technology for creating more interactive Web pages with the standard hypertext markup language.
"Dynamic HTML is the power to build real apps using HTML," said Michael Wallent, lead program manager at Microsoft.
Microsoft has submitted both technologies to the World Wide Web Consortium for approval as Net standards. Today, Microsoft said that a forthcoming version of its FrontPage HTML editing tools will allow developers to produce Web pages with Dynamic HTML and CDF.
Similarly, a number of third-party vendors announced that they currently offer or will soon offer tools that support Dynamic HTML and CDF, including Bluestone, Expertelligence, Pictorius, and SoftQuad.