FRAMINGHAM (04/19/2000) - Taking over a slot generally reserved for the likes of his company's chairman Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp.'s Tod Nielsen yesterday delivered the opening keynote at Comdex in Chicago. Afterward, he spoke to Computerworld about the industry's move toward Web services.
In March, Nielsen became vice president of Microsoft's platform group, which develops the Windows operating systems. He previously was vice president of developer marketing. Nielsen reports to group vice president Paul Maritz, who runs the platform group with Jim Allchin.
CW: I counted three Linux jokes in your keynote. Does that mean Linux is now the main competitor on your viewscreen?
Nielsen: I wouldn't say the main competitor. I think Linux is certainly something we pay attention to. My background in Microsoft is working with the developer community, and so anything that gets the developer community's interest, I want to understand - what the value proposition is and what I can do to better respond to that.
CW: So from your perspective, what is the Linux value proposition and how can you respond to it?
Nielsen: It's not what people commonly think, (that it's) because it's open source and you can work on the source. It's rare to find a developer who makes any source changes to the Linux code. What they like is its suitability to (certain) tasks. You don't see them using a rich set of services building a rich set of applications, but if they want to have a fast, simple Web server or a special embedded appliance and they want a simple OS, it does that task pretty well. And it's Unix-based, so people who have the Unix bent are comfortable using it.
CW: So will Windows 2000 developers and OEMs get the same kind of flexibility Linux developers have to configure devices with just those parts of the operating system they need?
Nielsen: What we don't want to see happen is fragmentation. We don't want that someone's code breaks when it moves from one machine to the other. We want the Windows experience to be a positive, valuable, reliable one. So we probably won't allow that set of willy-nilly modifications. But that said, we are going to make sure that we provide the best technology for the task, and that developers will have the choice to install various components.
CW: In your keynote, you discussed the concept of Web services. What does that mean to Microsoft?
Nielsen: This idea that the Web will become a provider of core services that can be used by consumers or by developers in applications is going to be key to the Web's next level of growth - so it doesn't just stagnate. I think it's a huge opportunity. But in order to realize that opportunity, you need an integration technology. Going forward, the next generation isn't going to be about building a dot-com but about connecting the dots - how you bring them all together over this core XML framework. That's what we think is the heart of this Web services vision and of what we're doing in our platform investments going forward.
CW: What's the difference between these Web services and the Next Generation Windows Services that Bill Gates has talked about?
Nielsen: We think our platform will be the best place to build these services.
But today you can go to any Web site -- you can go to Sun.com and stick an XML interface on one of their applications and it can be callable as a Web service.
So it doesn't have to be Windows in order to be a Web service.
CW: Next Generation Windows Services has been characterized as a Web operating system and as a successor to Windows. Do you agree?
Nielsen: The problem with that is that it implies there is a moment in time at which this is done and achieved. I think this vision, going forward, is going to be evolutionary, where we will see more and more every day. Things like Passport are here today, or Windows Update. If you imagine the next generation of Windows Update where it does much more system restore and things like that, you can say 'Is this an OS, or a service or what is it?' We are still working on how we are going to describe or articulate this. But the point is that, built on Windows 2000, you can begin to achieve some of this vision today, and it's going to get better and easier tomorrow when more and more apps and services are out on the Web to take advantage of.
CW: The client for these services is not necessarily Windows?
Nielsen: The programming model needs to support everything. I should be able to make my pager a potential client for some information. However, we don't believe in one-size-fits-all computing. If you do have a local processor in a PC that can do things off-line, you should be able to take advantage of that.
And the programming model should support a rich experience when the device supports it.
CW: How will Microsoft keep a hold on its markets? With proprietary application programming interfaces or document formats?
Nielsen: No. In the new computing paradigm, in order to be a successful player we have to be the provider with the best implementation. In Web services, going forward, when we say we're supporting XML we are supporting standard XML, we're not doing any kind of proprietary hooks or funky tags that are secret. We are going to win because our tools will be best, our platform will be the richest and we'll offer the most value.