Microsoft Sketches Next Generation Web Services

CHICAGO – A Microsoft Corp. official recently served up teasers about Microsoft’s Next Generation Web Services (NGWS), but gave few specifics of the Web megaservices Microsoft is reportedly set to preview soon.

Tod Nielsen, vice president of develop marketing at Microsoft (www.microsoft.com) gave a lighthearted keynote on Web services complete with Top 10 lists and Linux jokes at Windows World/Spring Comdex here last month. Nielson described a company ready to plow into NGWS.

"Microsoft is continuing to make huge investments in our platform, in our technologies, to continue to bring forward the services and support that we can provide, so we can work with you as together we explore this new generation of computing going forward," Nielson said.

The speech came before two pieces of bad news for Microsoft -- the recommendation by the U.S. Justice Department and 17 states that Microsoft be split into two companies and Microsoft’s disclosure to investors to expect less from the company financially in coming quarters.

It is unclear how the developments might affect Microsoft’s NGWS plans. While a company split into an applications company and an operating system company is probably years off if it even happens, the legal problems throw into question where exactly Microsoft’s estimated $10 billion in recent broadband, business-to-business and ASP investments loosely related to Web megaservices fit in.

For now, Microsoft president and CEO Steve Ballmer says Microsoft will pursue business as usual while it fights the Justice Department’s recommendations and prepares to appeal the federal judge’s ruling that Microsoft violated antitrust law in its battles against the Netscape Navigator browser and Java.

At Windows World, Nielson discussed the role XML will play in Microsoft’s future Web services efforts. Today’s Internet is restricted by HMTL, which is a good programming language for building Web sites, but too simple to allow Web sites to interact or "talk" to each other, he said. Microsoft has pegged its hopes for the future of the Internet on another simple programming language: XML.

"XML is going to be the key to continuing this growth and explosive adoption of the Internet. And what XML is going to provide is a structure for information and content and applications to communicate with each other," Nielsen says.

For consumers, the term "future Web services" will mean full integration of online financial information, Nielson said. For example, a consumer could drag-and-drop the URL of financial and insurance information into Quicken, which would use XML to assemble a complete financial portfolio for the user.

XML and the Web services infrastructure would also form the main enablers for porting information to handheld devices, including handheld PCs, cell phones, and pagers, anytime and anywhere, Nielson said.

In business-to-business, where integration really needs to happen, Nielsen says vendors will have a much easier time working with suppliers, and other vendors. To connect with one another, businesses will need to employ a common language -- something Microsoft has already tried to do with its BizTalk Server. With that in mind, Nielsen stated, "XML is going to be a key technology enabler to make the appropriate interchanges happen."

XML will also form the foundation of new Web services components for developers that will replace the need for developers to code components using COM, COM+, and CORBA to hook together applications, Nielson said.

To demonstrate the types of Web services he was talking about, Nielsen used a standard Word document with some short Visual Basic script written in it. He highlighted a phrase and clicked on a German translate button. A translation service kicked in, went out to Altavista.com’s services, got the German translation and returned it to the Word document, where it replaced the English words with German ones.

Nielson said Microsoft’s vision for Web services hasn’t arrived yet, but that the vision "is all encompassing for us, and it’ll take awhile before we get to the final iteration. But we’re beginning to be able to see the steps of the Web services vision in play today."