Next Generation Gap

On June 1, Microsoft was slated to formally launch its Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS). The pesky Department of Justice, however, threw a bucket of legal water on the fire of Bill Gate’s pending announcement. Prior to Judge Jackson's well-publicized ruling, Microsoft decided to delay its NGWS announcement to the end of June. The launch delay gave me a chance to explore the implications of considering a new Web architecture proposed by Microsoft.

Microsoft had scheduled numerous trade-show presentations to correspond with the original NGWS launch. Despite the delay, some information on the new architecture is available. But if you believe the actual announcement of NGWS will be followed by a crystal-clear roadmap and implementation strategy using available products, you’re probably new at digesting Microsoft marketecture. As a test, grab any Microsoft developer and ask for a concise explanation of Microsoft DNA. What NGWS will bring to the development world is a long-needed acknowledgement that the Internet is a full-fledged platform -- separate and unique from Windows. Microsoft products, or product variations, that support advanced Internet solution development should follow.

The distributed nature of Internet software makes it well suited to integrating business processes. Designing such solutions, however, continues to be challenging. NGWS is expected to improve the situation with new back-end and front-end support for integrating business processes. The back-end piece for business process integration will be the long-awaited BizTalk server. Microsoft will leverage its recent Visio acquisition to create a front-end visual business process designer for BizTalk. Visio is an excellent product with some of the best COM support of any Windows application, so there is every reason to believe that this aspect of NGWS will shine. A preview edition of the BizTalk server, without the visual editor, has been available for a few months.

Although unannounced, there is little doubt that Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) will be the middleware for BizTalk and NGWS. SOAP uses standard XML as a remote procedure call language. SOAP is easy, is human-readable, is being reviewed by the W3C, and has the support of many major vendors including IBM. SOAP also should be easy for nontraditional computing platforms like hand-held devices and cell phones to implement. At this time, Microsoft is positioning NGWS as a solution for developing Internet software that can run on any platform, so it will be interesting to see how SOAP is used on non-Internet Explorer browsers.

Development tools will be a big part of NGWS, but don’t hold your breath waiting for Visual Studio 7.0. The next generation of Microsoft’s development suite -- which is slated to bring rapid application development (RAD) to the world of creating services for the Web -- won’t begin its beta until fall, ensuring that it probably won’t ship this year. To allow developers to start working on next generation applications today, Microsoft released the SOAP Toolkit for Visual Studio 6.0.

Regardless of the final specifications for NGWS, Microsoft is painting itself into a corner. Its position throughout the Department of Justice investigation has been that without the control of both operating systems and applications, it could not have produced its tightly integrated product suite. Now that an anti-trust remedy has been determined, Microsoft’s corporate heads remain buried in the sand. Rather than explaining how Microsoft will be even stronger following the breakup, they are talking about appeals and remedy delays.

Are we to assume that if Microsoft can’t win its appeal it won’t be able to deliver on NGWS? After two years, Microsoft lost its court case about as spectacularly as possible. Yet, we are supposed to bet our technical strategy on a comeback victory in the appeals court? Before I start considering NGWS implementation, I’d like to hear Steve Ballmer talk about how Microsoft and NGWS will thrive in spite of the proposed remedy. If NGWS can only be implemented by a monopoly, it’s probably not a good bet. --Eric Binary Anderson has led projects at a number if enterprise software companies and is currently the senior architect at IBT Financial, an Internet-based training company in Bend, Ore. Contact him at ebinary@columnist.com.