Microsoft plans expansion of Web functions in Win OSes

Microsoft has added more meat to its PC-centric plan to build World Wide Web functions into future versions of its Windows operating systems, bucking a trend to separate the 'net from the operating system.

Microsoft has added more meat to its PC-centric plan to build World Wide Web functions into future versions of its Windows operating systems, bucking a trend to separate the 'net from the operating system.

The strategy includes adding Web-style navigation methods to Microsoft's Office applications suite; adding a Web server, search engine and development tools to Windows NT; and merging the Windows desktop and Web browser.

The plan, outlined at the company's Intranet Strategy Day here last week, has won support from some users and analysts in part because corporate Web applications can be managed with utilities already in NT, they say.

Blurring lines between Web products and Windows NT "is a great idea", says Chip Wickenden, manager of electronic commerce at Barnett Banks in Jacksonville, Florida.

"They hit IS managers where they live," says Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, California. "They showed IS managers how they can be heroes in their organisation." Microsoft's strategy will enable information systems managers to cut costs and improve employee productivity, he says.

Microsoft's Internet strategy differs from those of operating systems rivals such as IBM, Novell and Sun. They see Web functionality and system software as separate animals rather than a hybrid.

Microsoft and Internet rival Netscape also differ in their approaches to intranet, or internal Web, applications.

While Netscape wants to coax IS shops to build often entirely new Web applications, Microsoft contends that adding Web concepts to existing software is smarter.

Some users agree.

"What's important is to be able to use the Internet as a front end to applications like Word and Excel and Access, rather than rely on having a lot of different applications for access," says Anthony Pizi, vice-president of advanced office systems and technology at Merrill, Lynch in Princeton, New Jersey.

Microsoft outlined a strategy last week in which all that data will be accessible using a Web browser. Internet functions will be written in to Windows, Windows NT and other Microsoft packages.

Microsoft also trotted out some product specifics. For example, a new search engine, code-named Tripoli, will be built in to Windows NT 4.0. FrontPage, comprising Web development tools inherited in the January buyout of Vermeer Technologies, will also be folded into NT 4.0.

The following products were also demonstrated at the conference:

--Internet Explorer 4.0, a Web browser merged with a new version of Microsoft's 32-bit Windows user interface that lets application icons and Web documents sit side by side. It is due out by year's end.

--Viper, a server designed to let users build and run large client/server applications by using the ActiveX programming interface.

--A proxy server code-named Catapult that lets webmasters manage user-access privileges to Web applications.

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