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How MS can hold onto the market while embracing XML

Stay ahead with the client, and being 'open' doesn't matter

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The sight of Microsoft enthusiastically embracing open standards, really meaning it, and being believed as well is novel, but as far as XML is concerned, it's becoming less so. Microsoft really is driving XML, Paul Maritz really (probably) means it when he says Web services architectures should be open and standards-based, and the Microsoft strategy revealed so far seems remarkably short on proprietary catches. Mostly. The company's big bang announcement of its Windows DNA 2000 platform strategy did indeed outline a future where there would at least theoretically be room for all sorts of different platforms, but under the covers there are a few catches that make the open strategy not quite so open, and therefore more traditionally Microsoft, after all. Microsoft will be introducing native XML support across its entire product line, and will develop COM to provide full support for its Web services model, the result being that the architecture will be available to virtually any system using XML. This in itself is an intriguing one - Microsoft has been bashing the COM tub for years, but apparently, it was only kidding. The COM transport now becomes XML messages, rather than the default architecture of choice, and we can perhaps expect some development discontinuity as this hop is performed. Said Maritz: "What this means is that in the future, as we evolve COM, the native way that COM objects interact with each other will be through XML messages, over an HTTP transport. So the way that you send a message or invoke a method on an object transport will be to essentially formulate and XML message, have it flow as an Internet message, and be picked up by the object on the other end, which will then cause the code to be invoked. So we will make native use of Internet standards." The demonstrations themselves lacked any obvious catches. For example, Microsoft Outlook was shown using exposed 'back-end' XMLised data stores to create composite Web pages, i.e. a 'personal portal,' i.e. Gates' Digital Dashboard. It looked clean - it used Microsoft BizTalk Server, and it isn't exactly going to be easy to make an XML data store proprietary. More protestations from Maritz: "So by natively using XML as our format, we also believe we have a great interoperability story, and people don't actually have to buy into our whole programming infrastructure to interoperate us with them, or them with us. So we believe that this is a very open, Internet-friendly way of evolving." Novel, certainly. But with Gates still bashing on about the "great interoperability" between Microsoft products, you can see which way the wind's blowing. And here's the gag, possibly. Say that in a few years time all of the servers are serving composite Web pages in neutral XML, then everybody should be happy, and Microsoft will at last have demonstrated that it really is into open standards after all, right? But in that case, the client side software that can actually read the XML is what's important, and who currently dominates the client side? Who, for that matter, whipped up the Digital Dashboard concept a little while back? Digital Dashboard, you'll note, can in some senses be seen as what happens to the client when it starts tracking and organising personal portal type information, and maybe moves off the PC while it's about it. So you could start to detect a Microsoft cunning plan to maintain control via its core area of strength, the client, and if Microsoft holds on to this, it doesn't matter if standards are open, and everybody else can theoretically compete. Microsoft's bald-headed enthusiasm for XML meanwhile adds further spin to this, because the company can increase its chances of holding onto the client by keeping in the lead in terms of development. Cunning - and it may even be legal. ® Analysis - Inside AppCenter Windows becomes the Internet platform How pure is IE5's XML? The march away from COM

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