Charles Fitzgerald, Microsoft Corp.s general manager of platform strategies, is considered one of the companys top “big picture” thinkers. Fitzgerald, who focuses on Windows and .Net and bringing together all of Microsofts complementary technologies such as XML and Web services into a unified infrastructure, spoke with eWEEK Senior Writer Darryl K. Taft earlier this month about issues ranging from the Redmond, Wash., companys odd-couple Web-services relationship with IBM to standards to Microsofts platform strategies.
eWEEK: Do you think the current Web services standards are adequate?
Fitzgerald: The baseline standards are there; theyre in place, they work. I mean SOAP [Simple Object Access Protocol] and WSDL [Web Services Definition Language] and UDDI [Universal Description, Discovery and Integration]. There are obviously some higher-level capabilities that are evolving and theyre evolving quite rapidly. You look at things like WS-Security and WS-Transaction, BPEL [Business Process Execution Language], those things are on a very rapid trajectory and youve got a lot of people involved in that process. At the same time, youve got a coherent approach where people arent saying heres a security standard and heres a transaction standard and we only care about transactions so we didnt think about security. We and a couple other companies are really focused on the holistic view of the architecture and making sure all the different pieces work together. But I feel really good about the trajectory of that next wave of Web services standards that builds on the baseline SOAP and other protocols.
eWEEK: One of those other companies is IBM. You are working closely with them. Whats it like working with a company that is one of your primary competitors?
Fitzgerald: Its that old computer industry “coopetition” model where were going to work together on the protocols and the standards and drive the [interoperability], and then were going to compete like crazy from a product perspective. And well compete with IBM all day long. From a software perspective, were a high-volume, low-cost mass-market company. The biggest challenge with IBM is just trying to restrain their desire to inflict complexity on people. A cynic would say the more complex it is, the more consultants they sell downstream. So thats one of the areas where we go back and forth with them—where they always want to have a special case for some system that shipped two decades ago, and were much more focused on having an architecture as opposed to a random pile of stuff. And the more complex it is, the more busloads of consultants they can sell to sort it out. So we have different priorities. We are first and foremost about building great software. They are more about services.
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eWEEK: What are some of the things you are doing to arm yourselves for battle against them, as well as against BEA (Systems Inc.) and other companies like them?
Fitzgerald: The biggest switch I think is people have invested a lot in application infrastructure over the last couple of years that turned out to be totally unnecessary. I can build an application for Windows and its going to be faster, its going to be more scaleable, its going to be more reliable than something built to middleware. A Java application server, which turns out to be really expensive, really slow, really complex, requires those busloads of consultants. And two to three years ago when everybody had too much money and it was a badge of pride to buy the most expensive stuff, that was common. But people arent going to pay $80,000 a CPU for an app server that allows them to run applications more slowly than they run on the underlying operating system.
So we continue to focus on high-volume, low-cost, mass-market, ride-the-high-volume hardware. Gartner [Inc.] did a piece this year where they said 80 percent of the spending on Java application servers has been wasted—where people are just over-buying functionality that they dont need. The current environment, where budgets are tight and people are trying to do more with less, is really forcing people to rethink writing a big check for infrastructure.
eWEEK: Whats your view on Sun (Microsystems Inc.s) Web services strategy and overall software strategy?
Fitzgerald: Theyve at least started saying the right words, but in terms of products, theyre nowhere to be seen. They get schizophrenic between Web services and Java. They want Java to be the thing that people use to access and talk to each other, [but] that models just not going to pan out.
eWEEK: What about Sun ONE (Open Net Environment)?
Fitzgerald: Sun ONE is a bunch of software assets they bought a couple years ago and allowed to deteriorate. So they inherited the Netscape server business and, politely speaking, ran it into the ground. They bought a bunch of other companies and they just havent really done anything with them.
They have some challenges as a company—financially theyre going to lay a bunch of people off, they dont make any money off software but they have a ton of people writing software. Are you going to lay those people off or are you going to lay off the guys who bring in the revenue?
eWEEK: They invented Java, and IBM seemed to be the one to take it over and capitalize on it. They were involved in the creation of XML, but Microsoft seems to have taken that over.
Fitzgerald: Theyre just not a software company and they prove it everyday. They totally failed to capitalize on Java. They didnt make any money off of it. With XML, there was a Sun guy involved in the original [World Wide Web Consortium] group, but he was a documentation manager or something, so he was totally divorced from the product. They were very late in embracing XML despite the fact one of their guys was involved in the standard.
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eWEEK: What would you say the status is of Web services?
Fitzgerald: Weve really moved from the phase of selling the idea, selling the concept, selling the strategy to being in the execution phase. The first wave of customers to deploy stuff has been very happy from a technology perspective and a business perspective, and we now will continue to improve our products, work with customers to roll out additional solutions. So were over the hump with respect to Web services and now its about how successful can we make customers rolling this stuff out.
eWEEK: With that in mind, has there been concern that you might lose people to J2EE because of the incompatibilities between Windows DNA and the MFC programming model and .Net?
Fitzgerald: The Java guys like to tell the story. In practice, if you look at transition paths for anybody whos using Microsoft technology today, far and away the best transition path is to the .Net level of technology. And Javas been out there for seven years now. Theres a whole set of developers whove had plenty of opportunity to go look at Java and for whatever reason they havent. I actually saw a quote form BEA recently admitting that the dream that a lot of developers were going to move to Java just hasnt panned out. They finally admitted that that was sort of wishful thinking.
eWEEK: What is happening to .Net MyServices?
Fitzgerald: We basically recalibrated from delivering a set of infrastructure where MSN was going to be the primary operator. So there essentially was one customer for the software, to deliver a more generalized set of software. So think of it as server products that anybody could take and deploy and operate their own instances of those services. We tried to align that with the more mainstream developer technologies so [it could be] riding on top of the latest database technology instead of building duplicative technology. And youll see sort of an update on where we are from a developer perspective first half of next year.
eWEEK: So youre talking about this stuff going into a tool?
Fitzgerald: Im going to be vague on where it shows up. But think of it this way: The big shift is from MSN as primary customer to “well sell it to anybody,” a one-off set of software to a packaged server that anybody can take and operate. And we built a bunch of kind of one-off functionality that in some ways duplicated other parts of the platform. And theres an opportunity to do a better job of leveraging other off-the-shelf components. You dont want to write a new database, you want to use SQL Server.
eWEEK: So the team is still intact?
Fitzgerald: The teams been moved around, but think of the set of capabilities that we talked about. Were delivering the capabilities instead of just selling them one-off. The biggest change really is who is the customer.
eWEEK: OK, but Im just wondering whether you broke the development team up or are they still intact, and where they are?
Fitzgerald: Thereve been a bunch of moves in terms of where the people are. We had a lot of that work going on in the MSN side of the house. The work is now going on on the platform side of the house. And its happening in different places.
eWEEK: Im trying to zero in. Is it going to appear in Windows?
Fitzgerald: I dont think weve said anything about packaging. And we probably wont for a while.
eWEEK: Thus the vagueness?
Fitzgerald: Once we roll out the new set of plans it will become a lot clearer. Were just not ready to talk about it right now.
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Fitzgerald: The first half of the year.
eWEEK: Security. You are one of the leaders in WS-Security. Do you think thats going to be adequate for Web services?
Fitzgerald: Yes. Remember, with Web services we get to leverage all the security technologies people use to buy things online, trade stocks [and] access their bank account, so in terms of SSL [Secure Sockets Layer encryption] and a bunch of the other technologies that safeguard tens of billions of dollars of transactions a year, thats where we started. A lot of the work around WS-Security is how do we use Web services as an integration point—use the different security systems that are at different ends? If you have Kerberos at one end and PKI somewhere else, how do we have a set of abstractions that allows us to bridge those things? WS-Security is the foundation spec. There is also that roadmap that came out at the same time where there are some other capabilities that build on top of WS-Security. But in terms of having the basic foundation in place? Yes. Its in good shape.
eWEEK: Integration. Theres been some criticism about Microsoft and its sincerity with this whole integration push. Can you respond to that?
Fitzgerald: Any criticism is coming from our competitors, who probably arent the best sources. But if you look at our strategy, it is to provide a software environment that lets people write new lines of code. We make our money in terms of selling tools and runtime infrastructure—when people build new applications, new applications have to be able to reach out and integrate with what people already have. If anything, the current economic climate is forcing people to be smarter about leveraging what theyve got, so our business strategy is aligned with our technical strategy and people can be as cynical as they want. But I think were pretty straightforward in terms of what our objectives are. Our competitors fear it because we have a better software environment and a much more productive environment and better economics in terms of how people write code.
eWEEK: I have to ask this question: Whats the whole thing about Sun and Microsoft? I mean, excluding them from all these standards efforts, the court battles …?
Fitzgerald: Click. [Turns off the tape recorder].