Microsoft's Get-Out-Of-Jail Card - InformationWeek

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7/28/2005
02:27 PM
Charles Babcock
Charles Babcock
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Microsoft's Get-Out-Of-Jail Card

Longhorn, a difficult-to-herd animal of the Nor'West, has been roped, corralled and rebranded as Vista.

Longhorn, a difficult-to-herd animal of the Nor'West, has been roped, corralled and rebranded as Vista. As you know, a Vista is something placid you have outside the plate glass picture window rather than something unruly that might break Windows.

Microsoft has done an impressive job of getting its Vista system inside the fenced in enclosure and hitched up to the rest of the herd. For a long time, Windows looked like a go-it-alone critter that didn't want to be bothered by any other wranglers on the range. Now it's sociable, if not downright agreeable.

The realignment started with Windows 2000 and Windows XP but it is only in Vista that we see the fruition of a trend that Microsoft helped start back in 1999.

Sun Microsystems' Java programming language was ascendant at the time. For the previous ten years, Microsoft had become used to one of its languages--Visual C, Visual C++ or Visual Basic--being the fastest growing language on the planet. But Java shocked it into recognition of the value of interconnection and network services. Something new was needed if Microsoft wasn't to concede the suddenly emerging field of Web applications and Web services to Java.

Enter XML or the Web services standard, eXtensible Markup Language, an expansion of the HTML tagging system into a broad content vocabulary. XML, Microsoft quickly recognized, gave the sets of data in Windows applications their own mobility. If the application wasn't portable, the data inside it was.

In 1999 Microsoft persuaded IBM to join it in sponsoring an Internet messaging protocol based on XML. Simple Object Access Protocol or SOAP became a lightweight and effective means of moving XML content around, with instructions included on how it was to be handled.

Office applications can already exchange data in XML format. Vista's Avalon features will make use of XAML or XML Application Markup Language, for adding automated features underneath Web user forms collecting user input as XML. Eventually in Windows, Microsoft will expand your ability to search for data and documents on the hard drive from many alternate paths through the WinFS storage system, which can store files as XML. And of course Vista will offer increased support for SOAP.

Five years ago, Java had Microsoft boxed in and on the defensive. Sun was suing Microsoft for breach of its Java contract. The Justice Department was suing Microsoft as a desktop monopoly. Microsoft was becoming increasingly defensive and isolated. By moving early to XML-based data portability and Web services, Microsoft turned that around.

Says Dwight Davis, analyst at Summit Strategies: "SOAP was Microsoft's get out of jail card."

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