Microsoft partners extend .Net reach

Eager to embed its .Net environment in enterprise application deployments, Microsoft is working to give companies the ability to transform and manage internal Windows-based apps as .Net-enabled Web services.

In a move to leverage third-party Web services development efforts, Microsoft will this week announce a three-year alliance with emerging application developer Softricity Inc.

Microsoft's aim is to leverage Softricity's SoftGrid platform and ServerGuard component to encapsulate and to priority-redirect small portions of application code without rewriting that code.

The result is designed to improve the speed and management of applications running in the .Net environment, said Dewey Forester, business development manager for the platform strategy group at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.

"A big topic of conversation with users is application deployment and management," Dewey said. "[Softricity] can extend the value of core technologies like Windows Terminal Servers, as well as address versioning issues like allowing different versions of Windows to run on the same server at the same time."

As a result, companies such as Softricity have the potential to serve as poster children for Microsoft's .Net initiative by delivering much-needed sophisticated management capabilities to complex corporate environments.

Key to this argument is Softricity's SoftGrid platform's capability of transforming DOS to 32-bit programs running on .Net and Windows 98, 2000, and NT. A Windows XP client will be available by early fall. Future versions of SoftGrid are also expected to include a detached mode, PocketPC, and other on-demand models.

The company is working to enable all types of applications from 10-year-old homegrown programs to the latest productivity suites, said Stuart Schaefer, CTO of Boston-based Softricity.

By allowing remote workers to work offline and access applications while provisioning occurs, the technology should help companies strengthen administration of licenses and usage, said Dan Kusnetzky, vice president of system software research at Framingham, Mass.-based IDC.

"Their ability to encapsulate environments and fix registries so incompatibilities don't stop people might be seen as a godsend as [customers] face change in [migrating to a Web services/.Net] environment," Kusnetzky said.

But given Microsoft's various licensing restrictions, Dwight Davis, senior analyst at Boston-based Summit Strategies Inc., questioned the complex situation users might face in using a technology such as Softricity's to access portions of applications such as Office.

Softricity competitor AppStream argues Softricity's plans are flawed due to its lack of plans to leverage applications running in the Sun ONE (Open Net Environment) framework.

Developers would instead be left to bridge the gap, said Ted Sanford, vice president of strategic allegiances at Palo Alto, Calif.-based AppStream Inc., a Java supporter backed by Sun. Meanwhile, AppStream itself does not plan to build a similar system based on Sun ONE.

Yet for some Microsoft customers, a .Net stepping-stone is very appealing. "We like the thought of being able to seamlessly distribute our next-generation applications, and we want to make that .Net-compliant," said Randy James, senior vice president at Kansas City, Mo.-based Americo Life.

In fact, other Microsoft partners are pursuing a similar strategy to develop integrated Web services-based solutions.

Infragistics Inc., a Java and Windows application tool maker, is this week set to announce a new version of its software for building user interfaces in Windows applications and will add support for Microsoft .Net technology, according to officials of the East Windsor, N.J.-based company.

Infragistics will also announce that it has removed a copy-protection feature in its software and altered its product licensing and selling procedures.

Meanwhile, service management vendor Avinon Inc. last week announced the release of NetScenario Solutions, its pre-packaged business services software designed to enable faster delivery of online customer-facing operations.

Based on Web services standards and Microsoft's .Net environment, the product plugs into an organization's existing systems and applications, said Tom Clement, director of Advanced Technologies for San Francisco-based Avinon.

Clement said that Avinon's NetScenario platform is capable of assembling Web services-driven business processes created by Microsoft's SOAP 2.0 toolkit and VisualStudio .Net.

Lending a degree of professional services expertise to the .Net behemoth, Wakefield, Mass.-based Edgewater Technology also got into the act as well last week with the launch of its .Net implementation practice to assist customers create and manage Web services environments, Edgewater officials said.

Customized Web services architectures and applications will be constructed through tools and services built on integrated .Net products to best fit customers' business methodology, the company reports.

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