September 8, 2005 1:10 PM PDT
Microsoft Web plan takes aim at Google
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The software company plans to open access to its MSN and other public Web sites to let developers assemble new applications that build on those sites--a technique used successfully at Google and at other Web companies to promote their properties.
Microsoft will detail its "Web platform" strategy at its Professional Developers Conference in Los Angeles next week, company executives told CNET News.com. It intends to publish the application programming interfaces, or APIs, to some of its public Web sites, including MSN Search, and deliver better tools to write those applications.
The goal: to embrace the emerging model, often called Web 2.0 or the programmable Web, where new applications are built using pieces of existing, public Web sites. Rather than simply providing access to Web pages, these companies treat their Web sites as a development platform, much like an operating system. For example, a third-party developer could write an application, or "mash-up," that pulls location information from a person's blog and plots it on a map using Google Maps or a similar service.
But Microsoft has to walk a fine line, analysts said, by recognizing the popularity of new Web technologies while still encouraging the use of its cash cow Windows and Office products.
The move to lure more developers to MSN expands the competitive battleground between the software giant and Google, a company it is now competing with for developer mindshare. A Google representative wasn't immediately available to comment. Acrimony between the two companies has come to light in recent days, as they spar in court over former Microsoft executive Kai-Fu Lee, who was hired by Google.
Microsoft's online rivals, notably Google and Yahoo, already provide the hooks that let third-party Web developers write applications that tap into their Web services, such as search and mapping. Because these Web applications rely on a Web browser, they can, in theory, run on any operating system.
Microsoft, meanwhile, has always drawn third-party developers to Windows. But even with its commitment to Windows, analysts said, Microsoft needs to more fully address the growing popularity of online Web development. Having a healthy ecosystem of third-party add-on products helps drive traffic to Web properties.
"There are some real competitive issues going on, and (Microsoft) needs to respond, not just with products and offerings for consumers but also (with) compelling products and APIs for developers," said Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Jupitermedia. "There's a recognition that people are embracing the Web as a platform, and they (Microsoft) want to be there as well."
Microsoft has already given developers access to some of its Web sites. MapPoint, for example, has had a Web services interface for a few years. But the company is ramping up efforts to make its Web sites programmable and customizable by end users, mirroring the strategies at Google, Yahoo, Amazon.com, eBay and a growing number of Web sites.
Opening up the Web store
At the developers conference next week, Microsoft plans to publish the API to its MSN Search service, which can be used by developers through the Simple Object Access Protocol, or SOAP. The noncommercial license will let people produce 10,000 search results per day per Internet address, said Seth Demsey, group program manager for MSN Search. Microsoft will release an API for its desktop search as well.
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