During a keynote speech at the TechEd 2001 conference in Atlanta, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates also introduced the new Shared Development Process (SDP) program, supporting the company's .Net software services strategy. If successful, the program's working groups and other features could help Microsoft establish HailStorm, the first .Net offering, as the standard for delivering services over the Internet.
"Microsoft has consistently moved forward by getting developers and others to adopt its technologies as the standard used by everyone," said Technology Business Research analyst Bob Sutherland.
More immediately, Microsoft is looking to shore up .Net on servers and provide developers with the tools necessary to support the initiative. Through .Net, Microsoft envisions making software available over the Internet as a service, whether that be to PCs, Web tablets, handheld devices or cell phones.
The Redmond, Wash.-based company renamed "Whistler," its next-generation server software, as Windows .Net Server. Microsoft also revealed that the forthcoming server software will support its .Net Framework, which, in the interim, can be downloaded to run on Windows 2000 Server.
Microsoft had been expected to deliver Windows .Net Server during the second half of this year, but in April it delayed the release until 2002.
In addition, Microsoft released the final beta, or test, version of software used by developers: Visual Studio.Net, which includes Visual Basic.Net and the .Net Framework.
Visual Studio.Net is expected to provide important tools to support Microsoft's drive to move its Windows operating system and software to the Web. The development package includes updated versions of Visual Basic and C++ and adds the first version of C#, a software programming language designed to facilitate the building of Web-based software.
HailStorm on the horizon?
In the longer term, SDP may be the more important announcement made by Microsoft on Tuesday, according to analysts. Through the program, Microsoft plans to establish working groups and industry dialog focused on .Net services, starting with HailStorm.
Through HailStorm, which uses Microsoft's Passport authentication service, the company plans to provide secure, for-fee Internet services, such as e-mail, address lists and other personal data, to virtually any type of device.
The technology uses XML (Extensible Markup Language), an HTML-like programming language for creating complex data delivered over the Web. But Microsoft has been advocating proprietary schemas, or XML vocabularies, that work better with its products.
Microsoft's XML dialect would favor Windows and Office--two products, according to Dataquest, that have a market share of better than 90 percent market. Microsoft could use its dominance in the mature markets as a lever for entering other, emerging markets, Sutherland said.
"Let's say I bought the Stinger phone Microsoft is developing," he said. "It might be able to view not only Web pages but Word documents, whereas a competitive W3C phone might not be able to view Word documents."
Although Microsoft is positioning the SDP program as way to help companies develop XML schemas relevant to their industries, Guernsey Research analyst Chris LeTocq sees them as more relevant to Microsoft.
"What Microsoft essentially is doing is inviting people to build HailStorm into their business formats," he said. "But the question is, when and what will they pay?"
Because Microsoft would provide authentication for the services, it would own the definition of customer data and, therefore, the relationship, LeTocq warned. It could also charge companies for using the XML schemas.
"Microsoft could decide there is a travel-industry format which they define and, by the way, you get to license that from Microsoft," LeTocq said. "That means once (customers) use it, they pay Microsoft."