Microsoft counters Constellation

Microsoft plans to use the Internet World 96 dais next week in New York to counter Netscape's recently announced Constellation content-delivery framework and to show how it will leverage its own Active Desktop to ship software to user PCs.

Microsoft plans to use the Internet World 96 dais next week in New York to counter Netscape's recently announced Constellation content-delivery framework and to show how it will leverage its own Active Desktop to ship software to user PCs.

Netscape unveiled Constellation, which leverages software-distribution technology from Marimba, at last month's Comdex show.

"It is pretty much an exact replica of stuff we've been showing for about a year," says Yusuf Mehdi, a Microsoft Internet Explorer product manager, referring to Microsoft's Active Desktop and Active Platform technologies.

Active Desktop is a component of Microsoft's forthcoming Internet Explorer 4.0 Web browser. It lets Web servers send content out to Web browsers rather than waiting for Web browsers to request it.

Microsoft will use Internet World to educate developers on what they can do with the Active Platform, which is based on Active Desktop, Active Server, and ActiveX.

Charles Fitzgerald, product manager at Microsoft, says an IS manager could lock down Internet Explorer-optimised home pages to a particular Web server, for example, on which updates of system software resided as ActiveX controls.

The desktop, Fitzgerald says, would automatically check to ensure that software residing there was up to date.

A feature called WebCheck in Explorer 4.0 will automatically poll the IS Web page in the background to ensure that the user's desktop is running the latest version of system software, Mehdi says.

Microsoft also plans to exploit its Proxy Server to support this software-distribution model. The Proxy Server would cache copies of the central IS Web page; users would then hit cached copies of the page and the embedded ActiveX components to ease network traffic at the IS site.

The Microsoft answer to Constellation -- which makes use of Marimba's Java-based Castanet technology -- has strengths and weaknesses, says Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, in Santa Clara, California.

"With Marimba, you have to write the applications in much smaller modules," Enderle says. This is a good thing, he says, in terms of optimising the use of network bandwidth.

The ActiveX version of application distribution, Enderle says, will almost require the use of proxy servers to distribute applications across a network efficiently.

Without proxy servers easing bandwidth demands, "the system would take forever to respond", Enderle says.

Explorer 4.0 also will contain WebView, which lets users access PC files, network files, and Internet information from one interface.

Microsoft is on the Web at http://www.microsoft.com.

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