SAN JOSE, California--Microsoft today began trying in earnest to convert businesses to its intranet vision with CEO Bill Gates outlining the company's intranet roadmap, including new versions of Internet Explorer and Office.
At the Microsoft Intranet Strategy Day conference here, Gates explained to analysts and corporate customers how his company's intranet technologies will improve businesses' ability to communicate--and, in the process, he reserved plenty of time for skewering the CEOs at the competition.
Observers say that despite Microsoft's widely acknowledged late jump into the Internet market, events such as today's make it clear that the pressure is now on.
"Microsoft has a meat grinder set up now, and it's right behind Netscape. If Netscape stumbles, they're in big trouble," said John Robb, an analyst for Forrester Research.
The focus of Gates's keynote were a number of product introductions and updates, including the following:
--The company showed Office 97, the next major release of its suite of productivity applications that will feature improved Internet access and publishing capabilities. For example, documents will be able to contain hyperlinks to other documents stored on the intranet or the Internet. Office 97, which is actually expected to ship by the end of 1996, will also include Outlook, an application for managing email, schedules, tasks, contacts, and files from within a single interface. It is designed to help groups of employees linked via an intrane to easily locate calendars, contacts, and tasks stored in a Microsoft Exchange Public Folder. Microsoft Exchange is the company's messaging server, which manages email communication and provides Public Folders for storing documents somewhere accessible by everyone on the network.
--Microsoft also showed Internet Explorer 4.0, formerly code-named Nashville. IE 4.0, will go into beta testing this summer, will convert the Windows 95 desktop into a browser, complete with ActiveX controls and hyperlinks. For example, the new version will use the browser interface to provide users with seamless access to local files, as well as Web documents.
--The company announced that it is bundling its FrontPage HTML authoring and Web site management, as well as its new Tripoli search engine and content indexing server in with Windows NT 4.0, due to ship this summer. The new additions will not change the price of NT, the company said. Tripoli is currently in beta testing and is available for preview on the company's Web site; the final version will be released separately as well in the third quarter.
--Microsoft demonstrated its next-generation Directory Server, an add-on to Windows NT Server 4.0 that will provide a single administration interface for network resources such as files, peripheral devices, and databases. The Directory Server, which will be available in preview release for Windows NT 4.0 in the second half of this year, will support lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP), X.500, directory access protocol (DAP), directory system protocol (DSP), and directory information shadow protocol (DISP). The server will also be a key component of Cairo, the next generation of NT Server.
--The company said its Java-specific development tool, formerly code-named Jakarta, was renamed Visual J++ and is expected to be available in late summer or early fall.
--The company demonstrated Viper, a server product that combines transaction monitoring and object request broker capabilities. The company did not specify a release date.
--Microsoft announced the Common Internet File System (CIFS), a remote file-sharing technology based on native file-sharing technology used in Windows, DOS, and OS/2. CIFS will make it easier for users to read and write over the Internet to files stored on remote servers. Data General, Digital Equipment Corporation, Intel, Intergraph, and Network Appliance, also collaborated in the development of the standard.
In addition to new products, Gates took his revenge on Sun Microsystems' Scott McNealy, Netscape Communications'Jim Barksdale, and Oracle's Larry Ellison, all of whom have publicly ribbed Gates in recent speeches at trade shows.
Gates attacked McNealy for advocating simplified versions of applications that will run on stripped down computing devices such as the Network Computer: "Sun really should start a new humor division. Scott really is one of the most entertaining people in the industry," Gates said. "One of the points Scott likes to make is people don't want powerful applications. People do like functions like auto-correct."
Similarly, the Microsoft CEO also refuted the notion, advocated by Ellison and others, that users want a less powerful PC such as the NC. "The common thread is that PCs are getting more powerful," Gates said.