September 8, 2005 1:10 PM PDT
Microsoft Web plan takes aim at Google
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write Windows applications that make use of the "Activity" window. This would allow a customer service representative, for example, to display customer information in a chat session.
Microsoft is encouraging developers to write applications for its Web properties because more and more applications are being delivered online rather than run on a single desktop PC, company executives said.
"We think we need to evolve the platform and development story to keep pace with developers who want to build these experiences that reach across the Internet," said Adam Sohn, a spokesman for Microsoft's MSN division. "The more applications, the more value to the user and the more people gravitate to our platform."
While Microsoft is opening up access to well-established MSN sites next week, it is also giving a sneak peek of some tools it hopes will ease online Web application development.
Next Thursday, Microsoft executives will discuss a developer program for Start.com, an MSN incubator Web site that consolidates information from RSS feeds and other Web sites onto a single customizable page.
Although the company has been quiet about the details, the idea is to encourage Web programmers to build add-ons to Start.com, according to employee blogs.
At the PDC next week, the company is also expected to release a beta test version of Atlas, a tool meant to ease creation of Web applications using the technique known as AJAX, which relies on modern standards to make Web pages more interactive.
"The Framework provides us with a client-side component model, network stacks, Firefox compatibility, and OO (object-oriented) language enhancements that allows us to 'engineer' rather than ad-hoc script the client," Scott Isaacs, an architect for MSN Web experience, said in a recent blog posting.
Much of the MSN-specific tooling will be incorporated in Microsoft's Atlas, Isaacs said. Developed by the ASP.Net team, the Atlas Project is an add-on to Microsoft flagship development tool Visual Studio to simplify the job of writing interactive Web applications using AJAX standards.
Balancing Web and Windows platforms
Promoting AJAX-style development of online applications poses something of a conflict for Microsoft, said Michael Cherry, an analyst at Directions on Microsoft.
On one hand, Microsoft is appealing to the trend of making Web applications that run entirely in the browser across all operating systems. But at the same time, it continues to espouse so-called thick clients, or what Microsoft calls "smart clients," where the application front end fully exploits the features of Windows and Office on a PC. In its own Dynamics-branded business applications, announced Wednesday, integration with Office is a top priority, for instance.
"What kind of worries them a little with the AJAX thin-client model is, if they ignore it and offer nothing, are they driving people to (the open-source development combination) LAMP?" Cherry said.
"There's an ongoing debate inside the company over what's the right level to support these things while still being aware that the company is in the operating-system business," he said.
Microsoft's Sohn said the company will continue to encourage the use of both the MSN platform and its Windows/Office combination. With the MSN tooling, many Windows-based clients can now more easily grab data from public Web sites, he noted.
"We don't see any conflict here," he said. "And we know how to compete in the platform business."
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