Rip-Curl Redmond: Microsoft's Plans for the Future
Microsoft rules when it comes to monitoring conditions in tech. Yet, to surf the same waters, you need to read wave action—and Microsoft’s next moves—accurately, too.
- By Scott Bekker
FOLLOWING MICROSOFT PRODUCT planning is gnarly fun. Few companies put
so much information in front of their users and developers about plans.
And few companies’ product plans inspire such passionate argument and
conspiracy theorizing as Microsoft’s. But as you know, following Redmond
action is more than a simple pastime. For IT pros, noting Microsoft’s
moves is vital to your career. If you have a realistic idea where Microsoft’s
heading, you can base corporate buying decisions and spend professional
training time on technologies that are going to be around for a while.
Unfortunately, Microsoft doesn’t provide one easy-to-find page on its
Web site where it collects all its public statements on product plans.
Even if Microsoft did, it wouldn’t catalog all the side comments made
to reporters or individual groups of developers or high-level customers
by the mid-level Microsoft managers most knowledgeable about the actual
direction of individual products. This article fills that gap.
We focus primarily on the business software that provides the infrastructure
backbone of many organizations: the server and client operating systems,
the .NET Enterprise Servers and the developer tools. We’ll look as far
out as 2007, but the focus will be on the most tangible elements of Microsoft’s
plans, stretching into early 2004.
By the time you read this, Microsoft should be close to delivering a
few products that weren’t out at press time. Redmond was slated to ship
Content Management Server 2002 and finish Visual Studio .NET “Everett,”
along with an incremental revision of the .NET Framework, by the end of
calendar year 2002. A Content Management Server 2002 is an overhaul of
a content publishing system called NCompass Resolution that Microsoft
bought and rebranded as Content Management Server 2001. Visual Studio
.NET Everett supports the .NET platform and an incremental upgrade of
the Microsoft .NET Framework.
Sometime in the first half of 2003, Microsoft is supposed to ship Windows
.NET Server 2003. .NET may be a minor release compared to the Windows
NT 4.0 to Windows 2000 transition, but it’s by far the biggest product
launch in Microsoft’s arsenal for 2003. It’s primarily an enhancement,
a 5.2 version if you will, of Win2K Server and effectively a 2.0 release
of Active Directory—but it breaks new ground for Microsoft in two main
areas. Simultaneous with the 32-bit releases are 64-bit versions of .NET
Enterprise Edition and .NET Datacenter Edition. These are Microsoft’s
first generally available 64-bit server OSs. The other new area for Microsoft
with .NET—the Web Edition—is an attempt to compete more effectively with
Linux in the market for low-cost, high-volume Web farm, rack-’em and stack-’em
The database team is working to meet a simultaneous delivery schedule
on a 64-bit edition of SQL Server 2000, so that potential 64-bit .NET
users have something to run on their servers. The Exchange team will follow
the release of .NET with a 32-bit version of the e-mail server that leverages
the new features of the server OS. That mid-year release of Exchange,
code-named “Titanium,” will be similar to .NET in that it’s an incremental
release built atop the major work done in the Exchange 2000 generation.
Microsoft is attempting to synchronize the release of Office 11, currently
in early beta testing, with the Titanium release. The long-awaited Systems
Management Server 2003 is also on tap for a mid-2003 release.
Settlement Eases Uncertainty
One major source of uncertainty across Microsoft future
plans seems to be out of the way. In November 2002,
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly conditionally
approved the antitrust settlement agreement between
Microsoft and the U.S. Dept. of Justice. At the same
time, Judge Kollar-Kotelly threw out the more radical
antitrust remedies put forward by the non-settling states.
While the approved settlement doesn’t end Microsoft’s
legal troubles, it greatly reduces the potential for
the case to influence its product plans. Most of the
product changes directly related to the antitrust case
have already gone into effect in Win2K SP3 and XP SP1.
Microsoft introduced the settlement-required utility
in those two SPs that allows users to hide court-defined
middleware such as Internet Explorer, Windows Media
Player, Windows Messenger and the Microsoft Java Virtual
Machine and Outlook Express.
Several significant company initiatives cut across Microsoft’s business-oriented
products and represent recurring themes throughout Microsoft’s near future.
They include product line consolidation, security and XML-enablement.
A major trend is to compress the back-end server products proliferating
in recent years. The formerly modest collection of servers known as the
BackOffice Suite grew into about a dozen .NET Enterprise Servers. Over
the last few years, Microsoft has added Content Management Server, BizTalk
Server, Application Center, SharePoint Portal Server, Microsoft Operations
Manager and Internet Security & Acceleration Server. While Microsoft is
still rolling out new servers in the area of specific enterprise applications,
such as modules for CRM and ERP software, basic infrastructure software
is on a downward trend again.
The functionality isn’t going away, but the number of infrastructure
servers is. Early in 2002, Microsoft previewed the trend by announcing
that a new version of the new Mobile Information Server would be the last.
The functionality is being subsumed into Titanium and ISA Server.
In October, Microsoft unveiled its whopper of a product consolidation,
appropriately called Jupiter. By 2004, the Jupiter e-business server will
combine all the functionality of three minor products: BizTalk Server,
Commerce Server and Content Management Server. More on that shortly.
For the next step in the reduction of the product line, look to Microsoft’s
management software. Microsoft previewed that broadly last spring by letting
customers in on two internal projects to develop management software for
servers and clients. If carried through, it would represent a realignment
of Systems Management Server, MOM and Application Center. At MEC 2002,
where the Jupiter project was first unveiled, Microsoft senior vice president
for .NET Enterprise Servers Paul Flessner confirmed that those very management
products are being looked at hard.
Any look at major initiatives cutting across Microsoft product lines would
be incomplete without mentioning Trustworthy Computing. As security, always
a simmering issue in Redmond, exploded in the company’s face with the
blended threats of Code Red and Nimda in 2001, Bill Gates acknowledged
the issue with his Trustworthy Computing memo in January 2002. The facts
of Microsoft’s response are well known. Microsoft initiated code reviews
of existing products for potentially insecure code and sent its developers
to security training sessions.
The steps led to quick fixes for multiple problems in existing products.
The initiative contributed to the Security Operations Guide for Win2K
and a later one for Exchange 2000. The Trustworthy Computing review was
cited by Microsoft as a source of delay in the release of .NET, which
will be installed in a secure configuration by default. Meanwhile, the
“Longhorn” release of Windows should theoretically benefit from a more
secure development process starting early in its development lifecycle,
rather than tacked on at the tail end, as with .NET.
Microsoft recently achieved the Common Criteria EAL4 certification for
Win2K, a joint security evaluation process created and recognized by a
consortium of 15 national governments and a pre-requisite for some government
contracts. Microsoft also took the unusual step of having its hotfix process
evaluated and rated. XP and .NET are on tap for the next round of Common
Criteria evaluations. Paralleling those security efforts is a lower profile
but pervasive push to create “prescriptive guidance” documents on best
practices across the products, including documents for data center and
Internet data center implementations that involve multiple products and
partner software and hardware.
Web Services—Wave of the Future or Pipe Dream?
Maybe the only thing Microsoft officials talk about more than security
these days is XML, the highest profile standard underlying Web services
efforts such as .NET. Office 11 and Yukon are two of the product sets
with high-profile XML integration efforts in progress. Microsoft isn’t
letting up on the XML drumbeat, although analysts are split on how pervasive
Web services are. Gartner says Web services are everywhere and you’re
falling behind if you don’t have a plan. IDC contends that there’s a lack
of consensus for how Web services will manifest in real-world implementations,
and outside the firewall, they may not truly take off for 10 years.
Partly, it’s a difference in definitions between the two respected analyst
firms, but in any case the bottom line is kind of like an old chess tactic:
Study the board and don’t make a move until you can truly see the right
move. Translated to the IT world, it means look at XML and Web services
technology through the lens of your company’s business model. Get ahead
by visualizing how the technology can streamline your infrastructure for
cost saving or revolutionize the way you do business.
At a financial analysts meeting in 2002, Bill Gates detailed three
waves of enterprise software coming out of Microsoft. It’s a good way
to walk through Microsoft’s plans for the next few years. The first is
a "Now Wave" consisting of everything coming before June 2003
and anchored by .NET. The second is a "Yukon Wave" built on
the next version of SQL Server; Yukon, in turn, forms the foundation upon
which the final "Longhorn Wave" is built. We’ll take a more
detailed look at each of the major enterprise products Microsoft has positioned
publicly in the Now Wave, as these are in the least flux.
The Now Wave: Windows .NET Server 2003
This server would be one of the best-understood products Microsoft’s
released in years, if not for the .NET name in the middle of it and the
four names the server’s gone through—from its code name of “Whistler,”
to the short-lived Windows 2002 Server, to Windows .NET Server and finally
to Windows .NET Server 2003. Meanwhile, the .NET part of the name immediately
introduces confusion into any conversation about whether someone is talking
about the Web services and development framework, the server OS or the
enterprise server middleware products. The reason .NET should be well
understood is that it’s been around for so long. Using one name or another,
Microsoft has been talking about .NET intensively since immediately after
releasing Win2K. Repeated delivery delays meant the talk has gone on and
Built on the Win2K codebase, the hardware requirements of the new server
software won’t be significantly different from its predecessor—a relief
for organizations after the bracing increase in hardware requirements
from NT to Win2K that necessitated all new servers in most cases. The
incremental nature of the release, however, makes it an unappealing upgrade
for users who have already gone through the pain of a Win2K migration.
Users who have stuck with NT have a second generation of Win2K, built
upon feedback and security enhancements, to ease the migrations they’re
under pressure to make since the end of regular support for NT on Dec.
But some of the changes will be helpful in specific situations, and the
ability of .NET to play nice with Win2K will make it a logical choice
for new machines in Win2K networks. The ability to rename AD forests was
a customer-demanded improvement over Win2K. The upgrade makes it possible
to update AD domains to reflect mergers and internal organizational changes
or to fix AD structures that just didn’t work or needed fine-tuning. Microsoft
CIO Rick Devenuti says Microsoft itself has renamed 90 percent of its
domain controllers since flipping the switch to a .NET AD.
Another interesting area of change in the .NET generation of AD is a
feature known as the Active Directory in Application Mode. It’s a standalone
version of AD that runs as an independent service instead of an OS service.
It doesn’t require deployment on a domain controller, and it can be run
in multiple instances on a single server. Suddenly AD becomes manageable
for application-specific directory scenarios, extranet access management
scenarios and migration scenarios.
.NET will ship in four main versions: .NET Standard Edition; .NET Enterprise
Edition; .NET Datacenter Edition; and .NET Web Edition.
64-bit Technologies With .NET
Technically, Microsoft has offered 64-bit technologies for more than a
year in the form of two releases of Windows Advanced Server Limited Edition.
Those Limited Edition OSs were actually created from .NET pre-release
code and have been sold in the same way as Win2K Datacenter Server—users
had to buy the OS as part of a complete server hardware and OS package.
But the .NET generation of OSs represents the first time Microsoft is
offering general release versions of 64-bit OSs. Both the Enterprise Edition
and the Datacenter Edition of .NET will ship immediately in 32-bit and
A 64-bit version of SQL Server 2000 is in beta testers’ hands and should
be generally available around the same time as the OSs. The most visible
benefit of the 64-bit OS is the immediate boost in supported memory. Officially,
Microsoft will support 64 GB of RAM in the Enterprise Edition and 128
GB of RAM in the Datacenter Edition. NEC Corp. already used pre-release
versions of 64-bit Datacenter and SQL Server 2000 in 2002 to set a single-server
record for a Windows system on the Transaction Processing Performance
Council’s TPC-C benchmark, showing the code is already remarkably mature.
An aside to the .NET release is a new server code-named “Greenwich”
that will handle real-time communications, popularly known as instant
messaging. This server bucks the trend of functional consolidation evident
through the rest of Microsoft’s product line, but only by default. The
Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) technologies were supposed to be a major
feature of .NET, but were pulled from the server OS in the second half
of 2002. The Greenwich feature set is supposed to include presence notification,
server-side contact lists, voice-over-IP support, roaming settings, alerts
and notifications and encrypted authentication.
Visual Studio Everett
The Visual Studio team at Microsoft disclosed plans to synchronize
its next three major product releases to the three main elements of Microsoft
waves—.NET, Yukon and Longhorn. The approach is different from the past
when Microsoft released Win2K in early 2000, announced the .NET initiative
later that year and came out with Visual Studio .NET 2002 two years later.
Microsoft is turning around and releasing Visual Studio .NET “Everett”
early in 2003. Because it’s less than a year old, the product isn’t supposed
to include much in the way of new functionality. It will consist of an
incremental update of the Microsoft .NET Framework, officially called
version 1.1, which will also ship directly in .NET. Developers will be
able to use Everett to write applications for both the 1.0 and 1.1 versions
of the .NET framework. Everett will also package some of the free add-ons
Microsoft released since the initial release of Visual Studio .NET 2002.
They include the J# .NET development language, the .NET Compact Framework
and Smart Device Extensions. One new element in Everett should help IT
administrators responsible for maintaining homegrown applications and
third-party software: an API and configuration layer called the Enterprise
Instrumentation Framework. It will enable developers to publish audits,
errors, warnings and events that can be monitored and analyzed by support
and operations teams.
Content Management Server 2002
By the time you read this article, Microsoft should have already
released another item in the Now Wave called Content Management Server
2002. It’s the second version to come out in a year and the last distinct
version of the product, which is being rolled into Jupiter. Content Management
Server is one of Microsoft’s less familiar products, owing to its newness.
It’s Microsoft’s middleware for building, deploying and maintaining content-rich
business Web sites. Microsoft acquired the product by purchasing the COM-based
Resolution content management system from nCompass Solutions, and the
2001 version was largely a rebranded version of the nCompass product.
Microsoft officials say that this time it significantly rewrote the templating
system and the development side. New features include direct publishing
from Microsoft Word, deep integration with Visual Studio .NET and the
.NET Framework, native support for XML Web services and integration with
Application Center for faster deployment.
Another product that’s slipped substantially from its original
release date is Systems Management Server 2003, once slotted for a 2001
release. The product, formerly code-named “Topaz,” is an update to SMS
2.0, used mainly for software distribution, asset management and remote
troubleshooting of Windows-based systems. The focus of the SMS 2003 upgrade
is mobile support for laptop users and, later, for non-PC devices through
a download that will follow the general release by three months. The product
will also deliver integration with AD—an indication of how old SMS 2.0
is—and more scalable software metering and reporting with fewer superfluous,
whiz-bang features than the original metering and reporting components
from SMS 2.0.
Exchange Titanium/Outlook 11
Technically, Exchange Titanium and Outlook 11 may not qualify for
the Now Wave, as the mid-2003 ship target could easily occur after June
2003. Still, the interim nature of this Exchange release makes it more
of a logical fit with the Now Wave than the Yukon Wave.
Microsoft is concentrating on reducing Exchange’s total cost of ownership
by enhancing Titanium’s ability to support larger numbers of users and
reducing its bandwidth requirements. Don’t look for the same delta in
users per server enabled by the Exchange 5.5 to Exchange 2000 step, product
officials say; instead, it’s more of an incremental increase in users
per server. For example, within Microsoft’s internal IT organization,
the major consolidation of e-mail servers occurred with the move to Exchange
2000. With the smoother offline and interrupted functionality of the Outlook
11/Exchange Titanium combination, the more bandwidth-efficient version
of the Mail Application Programming Interface (MAPI) and support within
Titanium for the snapshot restore capabilities in .NET, Microsoft CIO
Rick Devenuti expects to be able to consolidate the local Exchange servers
in remote offices into fewer machines at regional data centers.
Office 11, meanwhile, will support XML file formats across the suite,
an implementation to watch closely given the way Microsoft’s proprietary
Office file formats have traditionally helped the market-share-leading
product block competitors from gaining traction. The Outlook client in
Office 11, meanwhile, will have a whole new interface for users to get
used to. At previews in late 2002, however, the changes looked very positive
in terms of potential for end user enthusiasm. A vertical reading pane
on the right side of the screen shows more of a message while a middle
pane presents a longer list of e-mail subject lines than it was possible
to see when the traditional horizontal preview pane was enabled. But even
before Office 11 reached widespread beta, it was already embroiled in
controversy. The first beta release only loads on Win2K and XP clients,
leaving the large user base of Windows 9x clients out of luck. That means
even customers who bought Windows Me, which shipped after Win2K Professional,
can’t run Office 11. Microsoft indicated the decision wasn’t final, but
the thinking in Redmond appears weighted toward cutting out 9x clients.
Broadly, Jupiter will be a combined version of BizTalk Server,
Commerce Server and Content Management Server. Specifically, it will roll
out in two stages. The first stage is supposed to occur in the second
half of 2003 with the delivery of process automation, workflow, integration
technologies, an integrated developer experience and support for the Business
Process Execution Language for Web services (BPEL4WS), an industry-standard
replacement for Microsoft’s XLANG. Most of the technologies in the first
stage come from BizTalk Server. In the first half of 2004, the functionality
of the other two .NET Enterprise Servers will get sucked into Jupiter’s
gravity well. Those technologies include content management, site management,
site analytics, targeting, personalization and an integrated information
The Next Wave: Yukon, Ho!
Any talk beyond 2003 becomes sketchy, even when the source is the
highest official at Microsoft. Market conditions change, Microsoft discovers
there’s an Internet—you name it; but let’s press on just for fun. The
biggest item on the to-do list for 2004 is the “Yukon” release of SQL
Server. Technically, Microsoft says this could come as early as the second
half of 2003, but it’s the first major overhaul of the company’s flagship
database platform since SQL Server 7.0 in 1999, so count on it slipping
into 2004. Major features of Yukon include the integration of the .NET
Common Language Runtime (CLR) in the database engine and the addition
of XML and streaming files as native types. Integration of the CLR means
stored procedures written in any CLR-supported language will run in Yukon,
making the database much easier to program and integrate with a wide variety
of applications without database-specific coding. Yukon will release simultaneously
with another version of Visual Studio and a major 2.0 overhaul of the
.NET Framework. Yukon is significant as well because it’s a platform on
which successive Microsoft products will be built. Bill Gates has talked
about a unified file store/file system for years. Having knocked off his
goal of getting consumer OSs on the NT codebase with Windows XP in 2001,
this bugbear is next.
The Third Wave: Long-Time-From-Now-Horn
Did we mention that after 2003, the roadmap gets sketchy? Case in point:
One of Bill Gates’ major waves, the Longhorn Wave, has morphed radically
since his speech. The bulk of this far-off wave, according to Gates, was
a simultaneous client and server Windows release code-named “Longhorn”
and accompanied by a Longhorn version of Visual Studio .NET. But in mid-November,
Microsoft officials changed the plan and split up the client and server
halves of the project. Longhorn now refers to the client OS, “Blackcomb”
to a further off server version. As of now, the decision to break Longhorn
in two is so new that Microsoft hasn’t clarified much beyond the names
of the projects. For example, will Yukon’s file system be included in
the client, the server or neither? Simiarly, will the Visual Studio Longhorn
edition now ship with the Longhorn client or the Blackcomb server? Expect
real details to emerge only after .NET is out the door. Microsoft also
intends to integrate the Yukon file store as the back-end of the next
Exchange server release, known as “Kodiak.” Microsoft isn’t discussing
dates for a Kodiak release.
Microsoft recently offered 2005 as a likely delivery date for Longhorn,
but that was before turning it into Longhorn-Blackcomb. The company isn’t
saying precisely how the timetable will change, but the move opens interesting
possibilities. Without the extra engineering required to complete a server
project, the Longhorn client could ship by sometime in 2004. That would
ease pressure that Microsoft put on itself by pushing its customers to
Licensing 6.0, which implies new products at least every three years.
(Windows XP will be three years old in late 2004.) At the same time, the
decision to make Blackcomb the next server and deliver it later than Longhorn
relieves the pressure to turn around a new server release in less than
three years. At this point, look for Blackcomb in 2006 or even 2007.
The 2003 checklist for shops with a heavy Microsoft infrastructure
is clear from Microsoft’s public pronouncements.
- Evaluate how .NET fits into your existing or pending infrastructure,
if at all. Do the same for the 64-bit versions of Windows and SQL: Would
throwing substantially more memory at an application in your network
eliminate a bottleneck?
- Take a close look at Exchange Titanium and Office 11 to see if there’s
a tangible benefit there. Watch the development of XML file format types
in Office 11 to see if it gives your organization any wiggle room to
standardize on a less expensive product suite than Office in the next
- If you’re currently using BizTalk Server, Commerce Server, Content
Management Server or Mobile Information Server, keep an eye on how the
functionality on which your organization relies is affected by the feature
shifts into Jupiter, Exchange and ISA Server.
- Monitor Microsoft for new prescriptive guidelines on scenarios from
security to configuring infrastructure. Useful new documents are cropping
up at an accelerating rate; you never know when one might apply directly
- Keep an eye on Microsoft’s plans for management software, remembering
that the solution stack will probably look dramatically different in
the next few years.
Take a long view on XML, spending some time thinking strategically about
how your organization might use it to maximum advantage. Do this even
if you’re not the CIO now. You never know how much authority or influence
you might find yourself with in a few years when Web services take off.