Sometimes it seems like if you blink, another year (or three Internet years) slips away. Our next issue will be dated 1999; if that doesn't send Y2K chills up your spine then you must have already upgraded and tested all your products…and bought a nice bunker in the mountains of New Mexico. In an industry that moves as quickly as ours, once in a while its nice to stop, tie up loose ends, and look back at what actually happened while we were gulping coffee and cranking out code.
On Operating Systems
I touched a sensitive nerve with the column "Checking the Rearview Mirror," in which I talked about Linux and iMac as platforms gaining momentum. Starting from the day the article hit the streets, I was swamped with 10 times the usual e-mail. Thanks for all the suggestions on improving Microsoft Word 97 performance -- unfortunately, I'd already disabled FINDFAST.EXE. All in all, there seems to be a great deal of frustration that NT doesn't always blaze on blazing hardware.
I think my article ended up posted on some Linux sites, which explains the plethora of pro-Linux responses. It's nice to know that other platforms have vibrant communities. And I'd be remiss not to mention BeOS. About a quarter of the respondents touted this new multi-media oriented platform as Linux with a wicked fast GUI.
Hopefully we'll see Windows 2000 by the second quarter of 1999 and it will be an operating system we can all happily use. It will definitely be the most feature-rich operating system ever released, including Internet, components, transactions, and message queuing in one integrated package.
Bill Gates took a moment to talk about innovation in his keynote to the 6,000 plus developers at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC) in Denver this past October. Bill, with the anti-trust case on his mind, told developers that our industry has created 20,000 software companies over the last five years, and that there is no lack of innovation. Note to Bill: The guys who are innovating are supposed to be the guys who profit from the innovation. Browsers, palm-sized PCs, streaming media, and Windows terminals are all technologies that made some money for their inventors, but will ultimately make more money for Microsoft. Innovation shouldn't mean that every other software company is a Microsoft farm team.
Speaking of innovation Bill, don't all those Windows developers who helped put your company on the map deserve better than a PowerPoint presentation suitable for the executive committee? We're developers, Bill. We already know how it all works. For your next development keynote you should just fly on stage in a jetpack and tell us we can all have our own jetpacks if we keep writing for Windows.
Microsoft probably scored a coup by letting PDC developers buy there own second generation palm-sized PCs for a substantial discount. The Windows CE classes were packed with developers who want to program their new toys. The latest Casio Cassiopeia is a big improvement over the first generation palm-sized PCs, maybe even putting my PalmPilot back in jeopardy.
The new WinCE 3.0 unit creating a buzz is the Clio by chipmaker Vadem (www.vadem.com). The Clio is a subnotebook-sized, 640x480 color WinCE device with a pivoting screen that can either be used via the 85 percent of full-size keyboard or as a pen-based tablet computer. Supporting WinFrame and Wireless LAN -- via a PC Card -- this could be a brand-new enterprise form factor for a roving workforce.
Java failed this year to provide the performance or stability that developers require. That said, Java is still retaining industry mindshare with Enterprise JavaBeans and server-side components. I'd love to see a technological breakthrough that makes me eat me words, but I think Java is becoming a case of the Emperor's new clothes. If this is the best strategy to compete with Microsoft, well, viva la Microsoft.
On Microsoft Promises
COM+ is very late, tied as it is to Windows 2000. The COM+ Visual C++ language extensions that I wrote nearly a year ago won't be available until 60 days after Windows 2000 is released. Ouch. I got sucked into that one.
Extensible Markup Language (XML) is the other side of the coin. Microsoft has done extremely well supporting this technology, already releasing the first W3C certified XML parser. This seems particularly strange because XML is an industry standard.
Simplification was the word of the day according to the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference's keynote speakers. Microsoft seemed to grasp the issues facing users of their products today. But attending a breakout session on building Active Directory-aware applications left my head swimming and the room emptying at an alarming rate. Nothing simple here.
I think the theme of the PDC could have been "Approaching the Promises of Last Year."
The Year Ahead
As a developer, my fear is that other tool vendors will be unable to generate a buzz with anything but add-ons to Visual Basic and Visual C++. Superior products from other tool vendors no longer faze Microsoft. Please continue to let me know about such products so I can bring them to the attention of our readers.
If Microsoft manages to release a stable version of Windows 2000, it will have more on the ball than any other operating system. With COM+, Internet Explorer, IIS, MSMQ, MTS and SQL Server all tightly integrated, only IBM has the suite of tools to be considered a competitor. If, however, Windows 2000 is not dependable, all these fancy enterprise features will be useless. Could be an interesting year. -- Eric Binary Anderson is a development manager at PeopleSoft's PeopleTools division (Pleasanton, Calif.) and has his own consulting business, Binary Solutions. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.