Microsoft's .net vision shows a company re-energised by Gates

Forum 2000, where Microsoft outlined its .net strategy, was a punishing event, even watching the satellite downlink. But it...

Forum 2000, where Microsoft outlined its .net strategy, was a punishing event, even watching the satellite downlink. But it succeeded on a number of levels.

Jack Schofield

Opinion

The first thing to emerge was that Microsoft is being re-energised. Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect, looked unusually enthusiastic, and Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer, was even more maniacal than usual.

Gates has done this before, shifting Microsoft's weight behind Windows in 1990 and the Internet in 1995. This is a good omen for those who believe that the company tends to be "third time lucky".

The second effect was to show the ineptness of the US Justice Department's vision of the software industry. Gates showed how, in the future, browsing will not just be integrated into the operating system, it will be integrated into everything: it will become the "universal canvas". Thus Gates neatly illustrated what all IT people already know - that technology moves faster than policy.

The third important factor was strategic: Gates positioned Microsoft as the company leading the way towards the next generation of technology. Through .net, Microsoft has started to sketch out a framework that will define where the interfaces are for next generation tools and applications. Gates also appealed to millions of Microsoft and other developers to do what Microsoft cannot do alone: build it.

But the fourth and most important point to emerge was that Microsoft sees a future based not on Office talking to Office but on open standards, particularly the World-Wide Web Consortium's eXtensible Markup Language. Whatever Microsoft plans to do in .net, there is in theory nothing to stop any other company from doing first, or duplicating later.

Of course, .net is based on ideas of a network-based future that have been around a long time - and you could say exactly the same about the Web. These ideas have not become corrupt or wrong just because Microsoft has incorporated them.

But like Windows, .net presents individuals and companies with a critical decision: whether to ignore it or whether to go along with it. And their decision will have a much bigger impact on their own futures than it will on Microsoft's.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of The Guardian

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