Editor 23-June-00

Microsoft's NGWS => Microsoft.NET

The Magic of .NET transforms Microsoft's products into the all new, uh, Vapor.NET?

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Bill Gates, Steve Balmer and other top Microsoft officials finally presented "Microsoft Future" to the world. The official roll-out of Microsoft.NET (formerly NGWS (Next Generation Windows Services - or - Next Generation Web Services (depending on the week))) was short on substance (expected), but also vague and short on strategy.

Microsoft.NET is Microsoft's recognition that the world has changed and is leaving Windows behind. Now they must attempt to retrofit the future onto out-dated products, particularly Windows PCs, by dint of massive integration. Anything that comes along (including the entire Internet), is to be integrated into Microsoft.NET.

Why roll out Microsoft.NET now in such an undefined condition? Time is running out. They need to generate enough hype to convince business managers to hold off adopting real, available products in favor of waiting for Microsoft's grand vision to materialize. This has worked splendidly in the past. When the product finally ships, managers adopt it whether it works or not, because not to adopt it is to admit they set their organization back years for nothing.

All Microsoft product names now get .NET added to the end, as in Microsoft Bob.NET. This magic converts them into something entirely new without the hassle of redesigning them first. This sleight-of-hand Microsoft has used before (OLE => ActiveX => COM => DCOM => whatever). After that, anything new gets stuck on with magic glue (XML and SOAP).

XML and SOAP are not exclusive to Microsoft, they have been submitted as standards, but you can be certain the Redmond crew will attempt to make their versions just different enough to cause trouble with products that adhere to accepted standards.

The Microsoft.NET plan clearly has some strategic problems.

  • Unless the anti-trust remedies against Microsoft are set aside in total, Microsoft.NET will be very difficult to deploy. The monopoly power required to carry it off just won't be there. Microsoft seems to have no "Plan B", something stockholders should note.

  • If Microsoft.NET is successful, it will bring down anti-trust charges that will make the current ones look incidental. Microsoft has actually stated that other products will not work as well with .NET services as Windows.NET and other Microsoft .NET clients.

  • Massively integrated environments are fragile and vulnerable, as the mega-viruses now ripping through Windows / Office sites clearly show.

  • Most of the technologies involved are areas in which Microsoft has fallen very much behind. While IBM, Sun, Oracle and others ship products, Microsoft presents Hollywood style videos of what might be.

  • Observing how far along their competitors are, Microsoft has stated a very tight development schedule. Given Microsoft's recent performance to schedule, expect at least three times as long.

  • Universal availability of high speed Internet access (ADSL at the very least) is a basic requirement. Microsoft applications do not move swiftly over network connections.

The most solid aspect of the .NET future is the transformation of Microsoft's software products into "services". Examples of these services are Microsoft Office, and Microsoft Visual Studio (Microsoft's programming tools). Microsoft has long wanted to move from a software licensing basis to a software rental basis, and .NET is the tool they will use.

Danger! Offering their products as .NET services and the passage of UCITA (which Microsoft has strongly backed), go hand in hand. Say you are a business using Microsoft Office, and Microsoft finds you have violated their license (like having unlicensed copies of Windows) or you have a cash flow crisis preventing you from making your .NET payment on time. Microsoft can simply turn off your subscription to Office, effectively turning off your business. UCITA specifically allows this, and allows you no recourse.

Danger! Suppose you are a software developer, and Microsoft finds you have used some of their tools to create a Linux program. The fine print on the license says (this is no joke - it's already there) that these tools may be used only to create programs running on Microsoft operating systems. Microsoft turns off your Visual Studio subscription and you are out of business. Instantly. You'll sue? With what money?

Danger! Suppose your company depends on Microsoft.NET. The server farm maintaining your company's applications and data becomes the victim of a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. These can last for days. Suppose hackers inject a virus into the system that destroys programs and data, bringing down the system, for hundreds of companies? Will you still be in good shape by the time it all gets put back together?

These dangers are not unique to Microsoft, but apply to any Internet software service (ASP). They're just more serious with Microsoft because of the excessive dependence many companies have on the Redmond firm. A business manager must use great caution when letting any essential service out of his or her direct control.

Business Impact

Once Microsoft actually solidifies the elements of Microsoft.NET, it will prove beyond their capability to keep so complex a development organized. Microsoft's internal structure is one of competition more than cooperation. Further, development will take so long it will be constantly disrupted by redefinition in response to new products from other companies.

Cairo, Microsoft's previous grand vision, was first a product, then a "suite of technologies", and finally, many years later, just a few ideas tucked into Windows NT. Microsoft.NET will probably follow the same path, falling apart and fading from focus. Some components will be deployed, and others "will appear in future versions".

If Microsoft actually gets substantial parts of Microsoft.NET implemented, will businesses be willing to tie their future to Microsoft? Absolutely. The eagerness of American business to hand vast amounts of money to Microsoft in exchange for not having to make their own decisions is nothing short of amazing.

Microsoft will succeed partially, that much money has to produce some result. Businesses that do subscribe to Microsoft's vision, and many will, will find themselves underperforming in their markets. This is not a problem: other businesses will be there to take up the slack.

Microsoft's competitors, not Microsoft, will succeed in creating the future of business computing. Hundreds of companies are already at work, each concentrating on perfecting its own components. These components will integrate with products from other companies through adherence to Internet standards.

The Linux experience shows how powerful this cooperative method can be. Only Microsoft thinks it can go it alone, producing a single monolithic product that will exclude all others. They are wrong.

Andrew Grygus

Links

The usually fawning press has been uncharacteristically unenthusiastic about this latest "bet the company" initiative from Microsoft. Many are probably still searching for some substance. Here are examples of the press coverage.

©Andrew Grygus - Automation Access - www.aaxnet.com - aax@aaxnet.com
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