Microsofts Role in App Server History

Last week, I wrote about the continued consolidation of the application server market as if there were any players left to consolidate.

Last week, I wrote about the continued consolidation of the application server market as if there were any players left to consolidate.

As those players have beaten each other to a pulp and become application companies, its interesting to peer into Microsofts view of the world. After all, Microsoft claims to have developed the first application server!

Say what? Lots of companies have made that claim. SAP at one time claimed to have developed the first application server, when it had to add a middle tier when designing the modified client/server application architecture that became the R/3 platform.

My point is not to lay claim to being an app server historian, an obviously limited title. Its to show that the definition of application server has changed and to explain why Microsoft thinks it "developed" the first one.

First off, Microsoft views the application server market that we know of today—iPlanet, BEAs WebLogic and IBMs WebSphere—as necessary. They arent needed to develop applications, Microsoft says, but to solve a fundamental weakness of Unix. That is, Unix makes a terrible application development platform, and things such as J2EE and a middle tier are necessary to bring it up to par with Windows.

Microsoft believes that, since it rolled things such as transaction support, message queuing, a Web server, data objects and a development model directly into the operating system, theres no need to have an application server. In fact, the company believes Windows itself is the application server. This will never be more apparent than when the first .Net servers ship this fall.

Microsoft claims that Windows is more open than those other application servers because with them, developers are forced to code in Java, while with .Net, they can choose the best tool for the job—as long as its a .Net tool.

Is this what it comes down to? J2EE and Java vs. .Net? Unix vs. Windows? In many ways it is, but it also comes down to a perception of openness. With .Net, developers feel locked in and forced to use Windows—a platform they dont always trust. And that could explain why BEA and IBM, et al., sell a heck of a lot of NT app servers.