Microsoft recently laid out a broad vision for writing Windows applications to bolster its already-fierce following among ISVs and development-minded solution providers. The technical guidance pushes ISVs to embrace standards, such as Web services and XML, and to begin incorporating forthcoming Microsoft innovations into applications they are building today.
What's the hurry? After all, the next generation of Windows--formerly code-named Longhorn, but now officially named Windows Vista--isn't due out until late 2006 in a client version, and 2007 in a server version. But ISVs take two to three years to create new or updated versions of their software. That means their development cycle is in full swing so that their applications are ready when Vista emerges. To help, Microsoft has issued technology-preview versions of key Vista features that appeal to ISVs, along with a full beta 1 of the OS itself.
"ISVs are the first group of partners we target," says Margo Day, vice president of Microsoft's North American channel.
As part of the run-up to Vista, Microsoft is telling ISVs about four major technology bets it has made, says Sanjay Parthasarathy, corporate vice president of developer and platform evangelism at Microsoft.
The first bet is support for Web services. Parthasarathy contends that this collection of programming standards is on pace to become the secure-messaging infrastructure for the enterprise, supplanting proprietary software, such as IBM's ubiquitous MQ Series. Ultimately, Microsoft thinks Web services will extend transactional messaging beyond the world of back-end systems to the client operating system. "That will enable us to do secure, reliable messaging in consumer PCs, which will give rise to a whole new set of applications," he says.
The second bet Microsoft is making is on XML, which is fast becoming the predominant data format for everything from flat files to relational files. The forthcoming release of Microsoft's SQL Server 2005 database, due out later this year, will have native XML support, while the next version of Office, due out next year, will coalesce around a single file format so that eventually every Word, Excel or PowerPoint document will be native XML.
The third bet is to make "smart clients" the foundation for writing distributed applications. And fourth, the company is emphasizing its Dynamic Systems Initiative, an umbrella term for Microsoft products that aim, with the aid of third-party business partners, to manage and monitor mixed software environments.
Smart-client development is arguably the most whiz-bang opportunity Microsoft has laid out. Office, no surprise, is central to that. Microsoft is transitioning Office to become the cockpit for all other applications, tying it as never before, via Web services and XML, to back-end data in applications such as SAP.
Technology in Vista, and separately in its graphics and presentation subsystem, Windows Presentation Foundation (formerly Avalon), will enable developers to create smart-client apps that incorporate different programming models (HTML, WinForms, etc.) and multimedia functionality much more simply than today, Parthasarathy says.
Much of Microsoft's success can be attributed to its strategic hold over developers and ISVs, who seem to universally love the .Net tools for their ease of use and quick development time.
"There's a grassroots principle that you ought to give your development tools away, and then you will sell more solutions and more hardware," says Martin Sizemore, executive vice president and CTO of Atlanta-based Premiere Technologies. "No one spends $400,000 on tools anymore. You can download a .Net toolkit for $1,000. And that builds a community."
And Microsoft is betting that the community that writes the apps on .Net will drive the sale of the rest of its platform.