Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference may be remembered as the time when the company officially rose to the challenges facing enterprise computing.
The Redmond, Washington-based software giant has conquered the desktop and continues to make huge inroads into the server operating system market with Windows NT. But until now, the company has not tied all of the pieces together into a total package spanning desktops to servers and all connectivity in between. But Windows NT 5.0 and Windows 97, due to enter beta test next year, are positioned to change that.
Microsoft executives told thousands of developers gathered here its compelling interoperability tale, based on what it calls an Active Platform concept, which combines a common Internet Explorer-like interface with common scripting, security, and transaction features using a component architecture.
The key components of the Active Platform include a new Active Directory Service, a variety of Active Server technologies, and a common Microsoft Management Console, previously code-named "Slate." All of these services will be integrated into the BackOffice suite of applications, including SQL Server and Exchange.
Included in the Active Server package are the long-awaited Active Server Pages, formerly code-named Denali, transaction technology code-named Viper, message queuing technology code-named Falcon, and the Distributed Component Object Model (DCOM).
All of these technologies will be present in NT 5.0. Active Server Pages will be included in Internet Information Server 3.0, currently in beta testing. The transaction and messaging technologies will debut early next year.
Microsoft's distributed computing push is based on inclusion of standards for messaging, directories, and the Internet in its platforms, even as the company continues to push ActiveX and DCOM as standards as well.
"It's that whole suite of interoperability that no other company can bring," said Dick Shell, vice president of information systems for ABC Television, who joined Microsoft executives for a strategy session with press and analysts.
Centralized control for distributed uses of the Windows platform is another recurring theme. Demonstrations showed the next-generation NT directory interacting with Novell Directory Services; the Microsoft Management Console will manage the entire BackOffice suite as well as third-party applications; the Windows platform will be expanded to include new handheld products as well as heavy ticket-processing stations in places such as New York City's subway system.
The company has been releasing software components in piecemeal for some time. The first day of the conference made clear that these technologies will drive the future of the Windows platform as it tries to gain acceptance with people who don't want to have to think about operating systems or configurations.
Microsoft's goal for the future is to continue its role as the ubiquitous operating system giant, but future OS versions will be decidedly less complex than current releases.
The conference continues through the rest of the week.