Microsoft readies internet services rollout

Microsoft has finally pinned down the date for Forum 2000, the official rollout of its new vision for Internet-based computing.

The software vendor said on Friday its Next Generation Windows Services, or NGWS, strategy will be announced on June 1 at company headquarters in Redmond, Washington. NGWS is Microsoft's attempt to transform Windows from pure software to a set of Web services.

Microsoft executives have been hinting about NGWS for months, leading to much speculation about the announcement. But most observers aren't expecting a dramatic overhaul of Microsoft's product road map.

"It seems as though, broadly speaking, NGWS is going to play off existing products," said Dwight Davis, an analyst at Summit Strategies in Boston. That would put NGWS in the same category as DNA 2000 - an umbrella term designed to present Microsoft's disparate products in a more coherent way, he said.

"I'm sure you will be in for some great demos (at the announcement)," said Joe Clabby, an analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston. "But what I really want to know is: what basket is Microsoft putting its eggs in?"

Clabby hopes to hear what new technology directions are being pushed by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who relinquished his CEO position earlier this year to once again become a technologist. These new technologies may include voice recognition as a way to communicate with computers, a longtime interest of Gates, Clabby said.

XML technology is expected to form a key part of the NGWS strategy. Microsoft is working XML into many of its key products, and the technology will be at the core of the upcoming BizTalk Server. Microsoft executives have said XML will be the glue between applications running on multiple platforms across the Internet.

According to Davis, the launch of the upcoming Exchange 2000 messaging and groupware server is a clear example of how Microsoft intends to turn its products into services - the core of the NGWS concept.

While some Internet service providers already give users access to Exchange as a service, the product is basically designed to serve one company. Exchange 2000, due later this year, will allow partitioning and can be set up to serve multiple corporations, Davis said.

But in addition to a grandiose strategy or architecture presentation, some analysts are looking for announcements of a more practical kind at the NGWS event.

Among the possibilities are new licensing terms for Microsoft's products that are better adjusted to application hosting approaches. Microsoft has been experimenting with monthly per-user pricing for Office Online, which is currently being offered by some application service providers (ASP). It also has made some moves to becoming an ASP itself.

"I hope they'll detail how they'll balance their traditional channel and the ASP channel," Davis said. "They have to walk a fine line."

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