Hailstorm Already Stirring Tempest

In pledging conformance to open standards and protocols, Microsoft Corp. said all the right things with the launch here last week of HailStorm

In pledging conformance to open standards and protocols, Microsoft Corp. said all the right things with the launch here last week of HailStorm, the software makers building blocks initiative for Web services.

But, potential users of the platform are skeptical about the companys commitment to openness, pointing to Java as an example of how Microsoft broke previous interoperability promises.

HailStorm, which uses the Redmond, Wash., companys Passport technology for authentication, will enable interaction with applications and services connected to the Internet, including address books and instant messages. Production is slated for next year.

Skeptics charge that the HailStorm initiative is just another way of developers being forced to commit to Microsoft technology. "Its always been their history with embrace and extend to have a little bit of it open but to hold onto the main portion," said John Terris, a Microsoft developer and senior programmer with Kendall Placement Group Inc., in St. Louis.

"I can see the same thing [as happened with Java] happening here," Terris said. "They may release something for other platforms, but it wont work the same. If youre strictly a Microsoft shop, itll work great for you. But if youre a non-Microsoft shop, it either wont be as stable or as fast."

Microsoft officials maintain that there can be no lock-in because HailStorm is based on open standards such as Extensible Markup Language and Simple Object Access Protocol. By using those standards, Web services can run on any platform or any device.

"HailStorm is not focused on making these services accessible by Windows above anything else," said Brian Arbogast, vice president of Microsofts personal services division, at the HailStorm rollout. Arbogast said the company has a vested interest in making Windows the best platform for HailStorm, but, he added, "The way these services will get ubiquitous usage is through open protocols and open access."

What is troubling to some developers is that HailStorm schema for now will remain Microsofts intellectual property. "Microsoft is saying, We are open, yet theyre keeping a certain portion of what theyre proposing proprietary," said John LeBrecage, a developer and consultant in Vienna, Va. "[The initiative] seems to be all right for people who are very rah-rah Microsoft, but its not OK for people who ... dont necessarily want to use [its platform]."

Microsoft officials said some HailStorm schema will be put into the public domain. Some partners and competitors are giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt, saying Microsoft may live up to its promises, if only because the market demands it.

"Microsoft has not led by example in this regard in the past," said Carl Ledbetter, chief technology officer of Novell Inc., in Provo, Utah. "But I think they are coming to the realization that this cannot be the way to proceed in the future."