MS mounts major bid for soul of knowledge worker

Digital dashboards are in, and Exchange is turning into something called Web Store, apparently

Just a matter of days after Bill Gates unveiled his visions of "knowledge workers without limits" and digital dashboards, Microsoft was announcing "specific plans" for achieving them on two separate continents. And listen up, people, because these specific plans contain a deal of information as to how Microsoft plans to integrate it all together. Bob Muglia seems to have been handling the announcement at TechEd in Dallas, while in London we drew Steve Ballmer. Ballmer is allegedly more important, but we have here a form that the Microsofties handed to us and asked us to send back. It seems to want us to mark his presentation from excellent to poor in four categories, so presumably Microsoft's number two is up for some kind of performance review. But more of the form later. The big Microsoft announcement allegedly covers "four new initiatives," but in reality there are only two big ones, plus a sketchy commitment to future wireless and pocket devices and "Computers that speak our language." This one turns out to be a commitment to continued research into handwriting and speech recognition, plus the statutory reference to ClearType as a major MS R&D breakthrough. See here for why it isn't really. The continental split of responsibilities seemed to be that Ballmer and Muglia each majored on one of the other two. Ballmer led in from digital dashboards, while Muglia covered the database end, Web Store. But they're related. Digital dashboard as presented by his Billness sounded pretty much of a crock, but the way Ballmer presented it was rather better, the general idea being that users didn't want to be bothered by different data types but wanted to be able to deal with them transparently, and that they should have the ability to organise their own views on information as they needed them. Tools to allow them to start on this will come with Office 2000, but the more interesting point that Ballmer made was that they could actually get at this data via what you might think of as a future email program. What you might think of as a future version of Outlook, matter of fact. That makes sense if the commitments on wireless and pocket devices are going to be met, because obviously you can't be a knowledge worker without limits if you can't get at all your data from a mobile phone. And it's worth tossing in at this juncture that Ballmer claims that Microsoft's Hotmail is the world's biggest email hosting system. They're thinking small clients linked to the big outside at last, so the more conventional Exchange announcements Microsoft is making needn't be the whole story by any means. The pitch is possibly a bit contradictory at this point. As part of the digital dashboard initiative Microsoft says it will be producing a new set of technologies based on Platinum, the new version of Exchange Server intended to ship 90 days after Windows 2000. That will allow delivery of "relevant, targeted and categorised information to knowledge workers... through an internet portal." The release seems to imply it will only do this for knowledge workers "codenamed Tahoe," but we'll let that pass - Tahoe is actually a set of library and search technologies, and the US release got it right. From the above the system would seem bound into Exchange Server, and that is indeed the script Microsoft has been following for cellular data systems. But if we switch over to Web Store, we get a slightly different picture - possibly. Web Store is to be based on Platinum technology, and will handle unstructured data rather than structured. Microsoft envisages businesses continuing with both types, of course. Now, this data, says Microsoft, can be accessed via "applications such as a browser or email client, MS Office, or a custom application that supports industry standards such as HTTP, OLEDB, MAPI or... SMB." The point here of course is that Web Store is a kind of successor to Exchange Server turning into a kind of database, so the Microsoft contribution is still large. But the hint that it mightn't inevitably require Microsoft clients is intriguing.

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