An Eye on the Future

Customers want company to fulfill continued-interoperability promise.

Now that the antitrust legal action against Microsoft Corp. has been settled, users are hoping the Redmond, Wash., software company can focus on the road ahead.

More than anything, customers want to see Microsoft live up to its promise of continued interoperability and help make its next generation of software and hardware work together.

"We need tool kits, software development kits and the like to help with that. Like any leader, Microsoft must be clear on their vision," said Bob Duerr, president of Integrated E-com, in Naperville, Ill., which provides customer relationship management, e-CRM and e-commerce business solutions.

"Why cant I easily export my PC-based [Microsoft] Outlook phone book to my cell phone or to my home phone? Why is unified messaging specific to a single system and a desktop?" Duerr pondered. "Why does my family have different calendars that do not speak to one another? Why does my sons school not have the ability to send me a school calendar that can be easily loaded into my calendar? Microsoft must be clear on their vision, and they have been most unclear about what .Net really is."

Microsoft also needs to change its focus. "The question is, how much more can an operating system do?" Duerr asked.

Dave DeBona, an IT consultant for a national brick-and-mortar and online retailer in Columbus, Ohio, agreed. What the industry most needs to see from Microsoft is continued integration and interoperability initiatives on all fronts, DeBona said. "In particular, I would like to see more visible movement on making .Net available on other platforms," he said.

John Persinger, an internal network administrator for Source4 Inc., in Roanoke, Va., said he wants to see Microsoft lead the industry, particularly with .Net development tools. But, Persinger said, most important, its products need to work better and be more secure.

To answer those challenges, Rick Devenuti, Microsofts CIO and a corporate vice president, told eWeek editors here last month that Microsoft is already stepping up the way it tests and runs products internally. It has some 6,000 servers at 450 sites worldwide, making it an enterprise customer itself.

"Our No. 1 priority is to be Microsofts first and best customer. We will run the business on beta software and are the first customer to understand whats right and wrong with our product and whether its ready to ship to our customers," Devenuti said.

Products such as Microsofts upcoming Windows .Net Server family are being run internally with a number of key enterprise applications, adding a level of testing before being shipped to customers, he said.

But Source4s Persinger remains skeptical, saying he does not expect Microsoft to change its behavior toward customers and partners or to alter its business practices, despite the recent antitrust settlement.

"The sad thing about court cases over nontangible items is that its very easy to lose sight of what the actual goal is, and by the time its done, people can, and usually are, fooled merely by the perception of change rather than real results," Persinger said.

The justice system has allowed Microsoft to move on and do business as usual, he said.

Integrated E-coms Duerr said the end of the litigation has probably forced Microsoft to look hard at its market and redefine what the company is. But, like any battleship, it will take them a long time to turn the ship, he said.

"They have a strong, deep legacy of integrated products that will not be untwined. It will be on a going-forward basis that the impact will come," Duerr said. "But they clearly do not identify with their customer groups, from the users of the operating system and Office; to those enterprise customers and their concerns about integration, communication and security; to developers who use their tools for add-ons to the operating system and VARs and resellers."

The settlement most likely will make Microsoft be more careful about how it integrates and distributes its products, a move that will affect its developers as well as the marketing and sales departments, he said.

Source4s Persinger said he looks forward to greater clarity about Microsofts "next big thing"—its .Net initiative. Applications as a service is an area that will need a strong Microsoft push to move into use, he said.

Although Windows will remain on the desktop of most consumers and in the office and although developers will continue to develop for Windows, Duerr said, Linux- or Unix-based network operating systems will gain strength.

"Application providers will still build to the Windows desktop, even if they use a Unix- or Linux-based database or engine in the back office," Duerr said. "Microsoft will continue to overpromise and underdeliver, I fear, while integration will undoubtedly remain an issue."

DeBona said he has already started to see subtle changes in Microsoft, mostly in how the company presents itself and its products. The one change he hopes to see more of is fewer software fixes and patches that have to be released, he said. He is also encouraged by Microsofts Trustworthy Computing initiative.

"I know from personal experience it is time-consuming and difficult to change the way developers develop, but it can be done," he said.

Moving forward, DeBona said he expects Microsoft to partner or purchase key technologies that will further its platform.

"I personally would like to see continued integration and interoperability initiatives across all fronts. In particular, I would like to see more visible movement on making .Net available on other platforms," he said.

Microsoft executives have also said the development cycle for upgrades is not always long enough. Jim Allchin, Microsofts group vice president of platforms, told eWeek earlier this year that the company wants to make Longhorn, the next version of Windows, "a very significant release. We are going to have a reasonable development cycle for this version, which means a lot of innovation can take place."