Microsoft has given ISVs and developers a lot to digest. At its Worldwide Partner Conference in Minneapolis today, the company laid out an expansive vision for developing applications of the future, much of it predicated on well-known commitments to Web services and XML but also on a slew of innovations coming in the long-awaited Longhorn time frame.
The product strategy, while well-detailed, is also a bit of a leap of faith for ISVs. Longhorn -- the next generation of Windows -- isn't due out until late 2006 for the client version and 2007 for the server version. In the interim, however, developers can get their hands on technology preview versions of some of the key features that will drive new app development, according to Sanjay Parthasarathy, corporate vice president of developer and platform evangelism at Microsoft.
"We encourage you to build prototypes today," he says.
All told, Parthasarathy says the Redmond, Wash., software giant says the company since 1996 has placed four major bets related to platform strategy -- bets it believes will drive the development paradigm of the future. The first bet is the aforementioned support for Web services. Parthasarathy says the 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. It's a transition that won't happen overnight, he acknowledges, but ultimately Microsoft thinks that Web services will extend reliable and secure messaging beyond back-end systems to the client operating system.
The significance? "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.
He says the time frame for pushing the messaging envelope to consumers will start to take shape around the release of Longhorn in late 2006. Indigo, one of the key pieces expected both in Longhorn and offered separately to developers, is expected to be a key driver behind reaching this level of transactional messaging.
Another well-understood linchpin to the Microsoft platform strategy is the proliferation of XML as the predominant data format for everything from flat files to relational files. The forthcoming release of the SQL Server 2005 database, later this year, will have native XML support so that data in that format can be stored and accessed alongside traditional SQL information, he says. The next version of Office will coalesce around a single file format so that eventually every Word, Excel or PowerPoint document created will be native XML as well.
All things XML will allow companies and their partners to make changes to applications quickly when shifts in business processes dictate. Today, it can take a developer months to adjust code and data to a process change -- such as a new way to file expense reports -- and by the time it's completed, the process has flipped again.
Microsoft's final two bets on the development of its platform center on making "smart clients" the foundation for writing distributed applications, as well as 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 that Microsoft has laid out for developers. Office, no surprise, is central. Microsoft is transitioning Office to become almost the cockpit for all other applications, tying it as never before, via Web services and XML, to back-nd data in applications such as SAP.
"Users live in Excel or Outlook," he says. "More people will use data and application functionality from back-end applications if they are more comfortable with accessing it from the tools they are used to."
Additionally, this has the potential to up the revenue opportunity for solution providers selling SAP, for example, because more users will interact with the software -- therefore more licenses sold, he added.
Technology coming in Longhorn dubbed Avalon will enable developers to create smart-client applications that incorporate different programming models (HTML, WinForms, etc.) and multimedia functionality much more simply than can be done in the about-to-be-released Visual Studio 2005 toolset, Parthasarathy says.
Microsoft is also planning to simplify distributed application development with WinFX, technology that will incorporate a single set of common programming interfaces into all Microsoft products. This way, developers can write a .Net application in SQL Server 2005 or in Longhorn, or other products down the road, he says.