SOS for Hailstorm

Microsoft calls on developers to help build Web services

In a change of course, Microsoft Corp. wants interested parties to propose new Web services based on its HailStorm platform and then collaborate with the Redmond, Wash., software company in the creation and deployment of these services.

But theres a caveat: Microsoft has not guaranteed that this technology and intellectual property will be shared by all parties. Thats got some third-party vendors and developers less than enthusiastic about the companys trial collaborative SDP (Shared Development Process), which is designed for the next wave of extended HailStorm Web services.

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates announced the SDP at the companys TechEd conference in Atlanta recently, saying this would be a broad framework for industry participation, cooperation and feedback on key technology initiatives at Microsoft and across the industry.

The first SDP project would be the definition of an extended set of HailStorm Web services, Gates said, calling for industry participation in the process. At its core, HailStorm is a user-centric set of Extensible Markup Language Web services being built by Microsoft, giving users access to their data regardless of device, platform or application.

HailStorm uses Microsofts Passport technology for authentication and will allow interaction with applications and services connected to the Internet, including address books and instant messages. Users will be charged fees, depending on the services and usage level. Production for the first core 12 services is earmarked for next year.

But an executive summary of a Microsoft white paper on SDP that refers to the new extended Web services as Type 2 projects states the following: "Type 2 projects can be thought of as projects where Microsoft and industry partners create technology on top of Microsoft platforms, where the end result is a common technology implementation.

"In some cases, the new technology may be shared among participants. Type 2 projects will tend to create peer relationships between partners, often sharing some rights in the intellectual property that is created."

But Charles Fitzgerald, director of the Platform Strategies Group at Microsoft, maintained that on those projects where the participants come together and work from scratch on defining the schema, the participants would collectively own that schema and the intellectual property associated with it.

Odi Kozmatos, vice president of research and development at Xceed Software Inc. in Longvevil, Quebec, said he needed far more information on the proposal. "But it sounds to me like Microsoft thinks it may have missed some important Web services with its initial 12 core HailStorm offerings and wants us to tell them what these are and to work on them for them," Kozmatos said.

Gartner Inc. analyst Mark Driver, based in Minnesota, agreed.

"People simply distrust them due to their past behaviors," Driver said. "If it works, it will be the dawn of a new day for Microsoft. If not, it will effectively shut them out of the Web services market."

Microsofts Fitzgerald said the company had called for new extended HailStorm Web service proposals. He envisioned services like myMusic, myPictures and myMovies falling into this category.

Once the process closes in a few weeks, Microsoft will select a short list of four to six, at which point interested parties could participate in the process.

"But we are a commercial company and are in the business of making money. There will be a nominal participation cost of several thousand dollars, and participants will have to contribute engineering resources and attend meetings," Fitzgerald said.

Developers and third-party vendors are skeptical, saying the financial and other requirements would be onerous for smaller companies and result in their exclusion from the process.

"Everyone is scared to death of the HailStorm initiative, especially with the recent security alert about the overflow bug [affecting Windows] NT 4.0 and the beta version of XP," said John Terris, a Microsoft developer and senior programmer with Kendall Placement Group Inc., in St. Louis. "Microsoft wants to hold all of our data, but they cant even secure their own operating systems."