Microsofts hailstorm: you may love it, hate it or stir up litigation over it, but do you know exactly what it is? Im not sure even Microsoft knows. But one thing is clear: Choosing an interesting, overly aggressive code name will get a company in trouble, even if that code name sounds more like an act of God than an act of Microsoft. Not one day
had passed after the HailStorm announcement when AOL Time Warner drummed up the scare tactics in a meeting with U.S. attorneys general. AOL believes Microsoft is setting a dangerous precedent by using open standards, such as XML. Apparently, big, proprietary AOL is afraid that Microsofts actions will be bad for the industry.
I suppose Microsoft will forever come under attack for using open standards and yet keeping its code proprietary. Its that "have it both ways" stance, coupled with an industry-dominating presence, that scares so many people.
HailStorm doesnt seem big enough to justify this fear, however. In addition, it has two things going against it: Most developers dont understand it, and most users hate the idea of software as a service, a core piece of the HailStorm strategy.
At its fundamental level, HailStorm is a series of services that allow developers to plug in to the .Net framework. Eventually, this may be important, but, right now, Microsoft is focused on instant messaging, which is probably why AOL takes issue with HailStorm.
Developers will also take issue with HailStorm. They need to know what they are coding for and why. HailStorm is an abstraction. Developers may never know how their software will be used because its plugging in to a service thats plugging in to other services.
HailStorms second flaw is that its designed as a building block to make software a service. Judging by the reaction to the new Windows XP licensing schemes and by the fear that users will be nickel-and-dimed to death just for using the Internet, HailStorm will be met with instant skepticism.
Much of this criticism is undeserved. The fact that Microsoft is moving to open standards and a network-based architecture is an accomplishment. But any transition to a new technology unleashes skepticism. How a company manages the critics will determine how well the technology will succeed. And Microsofts not doing a great job.