Developers attending Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles expressed keen interest in the company's upcoming technologies - codenamed Avalon, Indigo and WinFS - and also expressed some impatience at the lack of a timetable.
Avalon, a graphics subsystem, the Indigo communication technologies for building advanced web services and the WinFS storage subsystem will all be incorporated into the next major version of Windows, codenamed Longhorn.
Microsoft offered conference attendees developer preview bits of Longhorn and pledged to make a beta version available next year. But company executives provided no estimate about when the Longhorn wave of technologies will be completed, even though at past events they indicated that Longhorn technologies could ship in 2005.
"It's interesting, but I think it's going to be a long way out," said Christopher McCarthy, a Chicago-based senior systems engineer at Bank of America. "This is too far out for us to evaluate."
"We could use the technology today, and we won't see it for at least a year," said one developer for a manufacturing company in the automotive industry, who asked not to be identified. He said Indigo, in particular, looks like a promising way to help his company formalise how it constructs and delivers web services.
He added, however, that it was difficult to tell merely from a demonstration how much of the technology Microsoft will be able to deliver in a timely fashion. He expressed surprise at the magnitude and scope of what Microsoft is undertaking with Longhorn, and said any one of the parts - Avalon, Indigo or WinFS - would be an ambitious project by itself.
Jim Mangione, a technical specialist at Merck, said he expected Indigo to help with integration in his company's heterogeneous environment, which includes Windows and .net, as well as Linux and Java. "I'm just hoping it's in a production-ready state soon," he added.
He said Indigo looks to be Microsoft's new messaging platform and will help with the handling of events in an enterprise rather than in a point-to-point fashion.
Jeremy Lehman, senior vice president and head of technology at Thomson Financial in New York, said his company foresees a major commercial opportunity with Indigo, even though it's just "slideware" for now.
He said his company partners with Microsoft and othercompanies to provide information and technology to financial services customers, and he hopes to be able to demonstrate products next year that use the Indigo technology to exchange data via web services.
"Even if it were not to ship, if we can demonstrate effective solutions on it, then maybe people considering making expensive investments in alternatives would choose not to do so," Lehman said.
He added that the proprietary middleware systems which companies now use tend to work only with internal systems; by contrast, web services can be used for the exchange of information between disparate systems on an internal and external basis. He expected Indigo to help ease integration, lower costs and reduce complexity.
But Lehman is also aware that Indigo is not yet mature, and he expects he will have to wait for its successor to get the semantics and richness of functionality for transactions.
Gartner analyst Roy Schulte noted that Indigo is a superset of Microsoft's Messaging Queuing (MS MQ) technology, as well as the company's Component Object Model (COM), COM+, .net remoting and web services support.
"Think of this as a simplification, a unification of communication middleware on behalf of Microsoft's plan," he said, adding that he sees Indigo as a very good enterprise service bus (ESB).
"It is tightly bound with the sending and receiving application more than many of the ESBs, and if you look at the feature list, it's very impressive," Schulte added.
The new graphics capabilities in Avalon impressed many developers at the conference. "It's almost like Hollywood and the movies, the speed at which they can do these graphics. I think it's just amazing," said one senior developer with a label manufacturing company, who asked not to be named.
He believed his company will find the new XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) useful in building applications, since it has the ability to separate the coding from the content. A graphics person could design an interface, for example, and then hand off an XAML file to a colleague to create the code behind it.
John Robbins, a system architect at Cigna, said he can foresee XAML also being useful for working with third-party design tools. He, too, likes the new capabilities coming in the Avalon/Longhorn wave to customise an interface based on the type of user. "It looks pretty slick," he added.
But Joe Rockmore, another system architect at Cigna,admitted he was still trying to get a better handle on what's going to be stable and usable.
"I got the impression they're giving a view further out than they usually do. Is this really a year out or two to three years out? A lot of these things are prebeta," Rockmore said.
Carol Sliwa writes for Computerworld