Microsoft Holds Business Applications Conference

Microsoft Corp. held its an inaugural Business Applications Conference in Las Vegas last month. The company positioned the conference as a technical workshop environment in which the more than 3,000 developers, system integrators and independent software vendors who attended the show could learn how to integrate heterogeneous computer systems and line-of-business applications with Microsoft’s Windows NT, Office and BackOffice software products.

"The Business Applications Conference is really the first time we've shown software developers how to integrate and effectively utilize Microsoft technologies, third-party products and legacy systems to achieve cost savings and improved efficiency in specific types of business computing scenarios, such as e-commerce," said Microsoft president Steve Ballmer in a prepared release.

According to Dan Kusnetzky, director of worldwide operating environments for consultancy and market research firm International Data Corp. (IDC, Framingham, Mass.), the existence of the inaugural Business Applications Conference probably stems most immediately from the fact that Microsoft must still prove its mettle as an application development platform for enterprise back-end implementations.

"Microsoft has been butting its head against the enterprise software wall for several years now, with varying degrees of success," Kusnetzky observes. "It has been wildly successful in placing desktop software with clients, but it has only gotten to the workgroup level on the server."

Kusnetzky lists concerns about the reliability, manageability and scalability of Microsoft applications as key inhibiting factors.

The Business Applications Conference marked an effort on Microsoft’s part to assuage these concerns and provide corporate CIOs and enterprise application developers with the necessary knowledge by means of which to develop e-commerce and business applications around Microsoft products. Accordingly, the conference showcased five different tracks that included presentations by developers, system integrators, customers and Microsoft program managers on how to combine heterogeneous technologies from any number of system and application vendors with Microsoft products to provide complete business solutions.

A line-of-business track focused on practices and strategies for building and deploying applications based on Microsoft’s Windows Distributed interNet Applications, or Windows DNA, architecture that can integrate with both new ISV applications and legacy systems in the data center. An e-commerce track highlighted methods for implementing business-to-business
e-commerce solutions and linking production systems from two companies into a single application. The Business Applications Conference also included tracks on collaboration, tracking and business intelligence strategies for interoperability between Microsoft products and heterogeneous systems.

During his concluding keynote address, Microsoft’s Ballmer championed the efforts of vendors such as SAP America Inc. (Wayne, Pa.,, The Baan Co. (Denver, and Boole and Babbage Inc. (San Jose, Calif.,, among others, to provide tools or middleware for interoperability between disparate systems and ERP, legacy, line-of-business and other business applications.

More than anything else, however, the inaugural Business Applications Conference focused on easing relations between Microsoft and enterprise customers, particularly in the area of application development for the Windows NT platform.

"Since every release of Windows NT has changed the user and application interfaces, IT management has faced training and porting issues each and every time new software becomes available," notes IDC’s Kusnetzky. "Customers are reluctant to get on this Microsoft merry-go-round when they only have limited resources and would prefer to use them to help their company, not merely to provide Microsoft with a revenue stream."

Microsoft’s Ballmer also discussed Microsoft’s efforts in the area of Extensible Markup Language (XML) development, which he positioned as a key means with which to achieve interoperability between products from disparate vendors. "We think XML will be terribly important, and we’re putting a lot of energy [into that]," he concludes. "We have over 50 people working on important standards efforts around XML in order to promote exchange of information at the application semantic level from vendor to vendor."