In the process, Microsoft offered a glimpse of how its planned Next Generation Windows Services architecture may be delivered.
At its Tech Ed 2000 conference in Orlando, Fla., today, Microsoft executives announced a new technology called "Web Parts," built into a new version of the company's Digital Dashboard software.
Microsoft said Web Parts are reusable software components that allow people access to Web-based content. The components use XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard, for exchanging data.
The "Digital Dashboard" technology uses Microsoft's Outlook email software to permit companies to give its employees one piece of software that in theory serves as a window to access email, company resources and information from the Web.
The Web Parts software allows employees to customize their own corporate portal sites, design a Web page and pick the information they want displayed, including corporate information such as updated sales data, stock quotes and news.
Eight companies have built sample Web Parts for Digital Dashboard, including Factiva, which offers news on the Web, and Honeywell, said Bart Wojciehowski, a Microsoft strategic marketing director. Businesses can also build their own components.
Wojciehowski said a business can subscribe to Factiva and simply add in Factiva's Web Parts component in its Digital Dashboard offering to give employees access to the news stories.
Similarly, Honeywell has developed a Web Parts component for customers of its hardware and software that monitors the health of the hardware, he said. A Honeywell customer can add the component into Digital Dashboard, letting employees view the hardware's health through the portal site, rather than having to launch the software separately.
Unclear is whether the new technology is part of Microsoft's new software strategy called "Next Generation Windows Services," (NGWS) which aims to offer new Internet-based software and services.
Wojciehowski said the technology is not part of Microsoft's new Internet-based software strategy.
The company had planned to unveil details of the new strategy last week, but delayed it because of the antitrust suit. Yesterday in Orlando, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates showed new application modeling software that is part of NGWS.
Wojciehowski said the new Dashboard software "is the early steps (of NGWS), but not as big a leap. It's a precursor to what's possible."
But Gartner Group analyst Chris Le Tocq thinks otherwise.
"The architecture they're showing in version two of Digital Dashboard is an architecture that I absolutely see them using as a technology basis for NGWS," said Le Tocq.
Le Tocq said Microsoft is painting the technology as a corporate portal technology, but it can be more widely used throughout the Internet.
"It's fair to say that we're going to see interesting Web applications built around this," Le Tocq said. For example, an Internet service provider could use Web Parts to offer Web-based email to customers, he said.
Le Tocq said the ability to easily customize the Digital Dashboard is an important new feature. Before Web Parts, businesses had to write a lot of software code to offer content on Digital Dashboard, he said.
"Before, it was more vision than it was technology," Le Tocq said.