Barney's Rubble

A Tangled Web of Services

Gates and crew's new direction in offering Microsoft's products as Web services is being met with more confusion than mandate by the industry.

Every now and then Bill Gates writes a memo talking about a fundamental new direction for Microsoft. For all the healthy brain cells in his head, those "new" directions are occasionally something a competitor is already doing.

In 1995, Bill discovered the Internet—years after Andreessen, Berners-Lee, Cerf and, of course, Al Gore. More recently, Bill caught on to Web services—something Scott McNealy and Eric Schmidt have already fully embraced. In fact, Microsoft itself beat this drum pretty hard while hyping .NET five years ago. The company talked a good game about Web services and write once run anywhere. Then it went right back to work on fatter and fatter clients.

Now Microsoft has been born again and this time it truly cares about Web services—but do you? The Redmond magazine feedback loop says no, maybe and yes, in that order.

Perhaps Microsoft was purposely vague about its Web services plans, but it sounds like some day, you may be able to run Office and Windows services entirely over the Web, or have Web services adjuncts to hard drive resident operating systems and suites.

Doug Barney The idea of running Office over the Web got most of the hard knocks. Not owning the software is one huge concern, but it's certainly not as crucial as not owning your data. For some strange reason, readers don't trust Microsoft to safeguard private information.

That data issue is more critical when it comes to sensitive corporate information. Is it OK for your human resource records to live on some set of servers somewhere out there in cyberspace? Does any of this even begin to meet corporate compliance policies or federal regulations? As if Microsoft doesn't already have enough authority over our PCs, extending this degree of control is not a comforting notion.

Then there's the availability issue. Web services depend on the Web. That means the Web has to be available. One reader points out that this introduces many more possible points of failure, such as the modem, data transport lines, ISPs, servers and hardware on the hosting end. That's lots of potential connections to break.

Finally, if Redmond has trouble protecting data and code on our hard drives, how is it going to protect stuff floating around the Internet—a hacker playground if there ever was one? The ideal scenario, readers say, is to blend Web services with standard PC-hosted applications. This is similar to what's offered by video game console providers. That way, key applications and data are kept safe (and backed up) on enterprise nets, but remote access and extras can come courtesy of the Web.

What do you think? E-mail me at dbarney@redmondmag.com.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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