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MS pulls the plugs on Hailstorm, pending rethink

Is it our imagination or in the .NET vision shrinking?

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Hailstorm, one of the cornerstones of Microsoft's .NET "bet the company" strategy, is no more - at least in the most ambitious of its advertised forms. As initially envisaged .NET was about Microsoft producing the systems that would allow delivery of services across to Internet to individuals, and Hailstorm, subsequently rechristened .NET My Services, was intended to allow consumers to access a range of services based on their own particular identity, anytime anywhere. But Microsoft has been unable to convince any of the providers of such services that it makes sense to do this via Microsoft.

Consumers haven't resisted it, they haven't yet had the opportunity to do so, but banks, credit card companies and the like just don't want to know. According to a report by the New York Times' estimable John Markoff, Microsoft admits that the consumer end of Hailstorm is for the moment no more; general manager Charles Fitzgerald is even induced to come up with an intellectual quote: "We're sort of in the Hegelian synthesis of figuring out where the products go once they've encountered the reality of the marketplace."

That translates, we think, as 'Amex et al told us to take a hike, so now we're going to have think of a new strategy." Compare and contrast, if you will, with what Steve Ballmer had to say in an Infoworld interview in the middle of last year: "HailStorm, as announced, is very end-user focused. The schema that we talked about are very much oriented toward the end-user. There could well end up being other schema that we introduce targeted at other audiences. Certainly, we will have a set of schema that we target at the small-business customer, for example. There's no announced plan and I'm not trying to announce any plans now. But certainly as you think of people who try to build b-to-b scenarios, there will be some schema to help integrate the world for end-users that is standardized and available in the cloud." That's what they've just killed off.

It's not clear how much of the resistance was down to worries about security and placing valuable customer data in the hands of a single company, and how much was simply large consumer companies deciding they weren't going to let Microsoft steal their lunches. Naturally, those refusing to play because of the latter are still likely to claim it was because of the former.

For the moment, Fitzgerald indicates that Microsoft is considering a much more limited implementation of the technology, selling it packaged to businesses. This makes sense, but represents another significant reduction in the scope of .NET. Earlier this year, you'll recall, Microsoft switched the security defaults in the .NET Framework in a move that backed away from consumer/internet and towards corporate/network.

Effectively, the great 'anytime, anywhere, bet-the-company .NET adventure' is being progressively downscaled to something that looks more and more like a traditional set of software products. Despite the fact that Microsoft is progressively abandoning the bits of the bet-the-company plan (Passport gets it next?), we confidently expect it not to go into Chapter 11, and that the marketing machine in a couple of years time will still be telling us how wonderfully successful it's all been anyway. ®

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