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Bill's big adventure: Windows as universal Web platform

NGWS some stuff cooked up to keep him busy in retirement? Not exactly...

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Yet another version of Windows? Unsurprisingly the Next Generation Windows Services plan (strategy is too strong a word, as yet) Microsoft unveiled yesterday as Bill Gates cashed his chips went largely unnoticed. But an examination of the admittedly small quantity of information Microsoft has released so far reveals something rather larger than some vague vision intended to justify Gates' new "software architect" role -- this could turn out to be bigger than anything Microsoft has done so far. Point number one is that NGWS is not going to be an operating system, but is instead being prepared as a universal and unifying services platform. It's Windows, Jim, but not as we know it. Point number two is that, although the tag isn't one anybody has heard of previously, NGWS is more than just slideware, because many of its components already exist, or are at least undergoing development. To some extent it's the next stage in the Microsoft software services strategy that Microsoft now claims Bill first unveiled in September, but which was in fact rolled out by minions, including new company boss Steve Ballmer, rather earlier last year, at the time of WinHEC. The misattribution is significant, as Ballmer has been driving Microsoft day to day operations in his capacity as president since the middle of last year. Doing what you think ought to be done while arranging for Great Visionary Gates to take the credit has been important, and now will become more so. According to Microsoft, when yesterday everybody thought Bill was handing over the reins of the company and leaving Steve to deal with the antitrust mess, the company was in fact previewing a strategy to transform the company around "Internet User Experience and Next Generation Windows Services." This is where it looks like nebulous slideware. But it gets more detailed. The better Internet User Experience, which is not TMed yet as far as we can see, has as part and parcel of it the ability for users to personalise and tailor the services they use, and (here comes some red meat) "and to store and share the information they need -- any time, any place and on any device." This part of the deal clearly encompasses application rental systems, remote storage of personal data and credentials, and a high level of platform agnosticism. It's the kind of stuff Bob Muglia's group is already developing in conjunction with wireless devices, and the implications are clear. By controlling server and middleware, Microsoft intends to achieve a dominant position (it doesn't actually have one here yet), even though the client devices may not be running Microsoft software. The clients are, however, intended to be linked into Microsoft remote services, so it's the next attempt at Windows Everywhere, right? NGWS does, however, have a client component, and here it's interesting as much for the detail Microsoft leaves out as for the stuff it puts in. Microsoft intends to "assemble [note choice of word] the first Internet-based platform of Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS), which will power new products and services and incorporate such features and capabilities as a new user interface, natural language processing, application development approach, schema and new file system -- all of which have been in development." All of these have indeed been in development, but did you spot the OS in there? No, you didn't. Previously Microsoft development has counted new UI and the legendary natural language processing capabilities as being things that will go with operating systems, but the NGWS "Internet-based platform" seems to be more a case of taking the power of the operating system out onto the Internet and into Microsoft-owned serverland, and accessing it via devices that might still have Microsoft software on them, but won't necessarily, and needn't be running any Microsoft OS we've met so far. It's the sort of stuff Microsoft's rivals have been talking about for years, of course, so it's not exactly original, but it seems to be a significant move by the company in the direction of finally accepting that the PC isn't where the action is going to be for much longer. Ballmer, incidentally, pointed out that the new services platform would be "very open," and would "ignite new opportunities for literally thousands of partners and customers around the world," and this certainly reinforces the impression of platform agnosticism Microsoft has been cultivating in conjunction with its love affair with XML. Ballmer intends to run a strategy day to beef up the vision this Spring, so we'll be hearing some more then. There is however a little more interesting stuff about the development approach. Gates himself will be driving, but alongside the four key group vice presidents, Paul Maritz, Jim Allchin, Bob Muglia and Rick Belluzzo. Allchin, Muglia and Belluzzo are of course the three chief condottiere that Ballmer has put in charge of the company's reorganised product groups, so although Microsoft is much devolved these days, the NGWS strategy seems to be forming as a cross-company unifying force. Which could make things a little bit complicated if there's a breakup. ® Related stories MS mounts major bid for soul of knowledge worker How MS can hold onto the market while embracing XML Does MS care about CE, or is the browser the platform?

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