Microsoft is touting HailStorm's reliance on open-standards XML as evidence that the delivery platform for Web services is, in the words of Chairman and Chief Architect Bill Gates, "not exclusively tied to any particular OS."
But at the HailStorm launch last week, the software giant also acknowledged that although HailStorm will work with Linux, Unix, Mac, and Palm OSes its services will work most effectively with Windows platforms.
"It's easy to speak the right words, but in the end the community itself will determine if this is open," said Bob Crowley, CEO of Bowstreet Software, a provider of Web services software. "I'm not sure I'd take it hook, line, and sinker that Microsoft will be as open as they say."
Indeed, Microsoft plans to tap the 160 million users of its own Passport single sign-on service as early users of HailStorm by offering them free services. Microsoft will provide a set of services under HailStorm, such as notifications, email, calendaring, contacts, an ewallet, and favorite Web destination, designed for more effective communication.
Establishing Passport as the gateway may be an impediment for some users because choosing not to use Passport could make it tough to get at the services, according to Al Gillen, an analyst at IDC.
"Just the fact that they've demonstrated HailStorm with other platforms is a step in the right direction for Microsoft," Gillen said.
The first end point of HailStorm will be Microsoft's forthcoming Windows XP, the next generation of Windows 2000, due later this year. Gates said that XP makes it easier to access HailStorm services.
Rick Sherlund, a financial analyst at Goldman Sachs in New York, predicted that HailStorm would build the same brand of critical mass that pushed Windows and Office to the head of their markets. "IT will be pulled in to this just as it was pulled in to supporting Office and Windows," Sherlund said.
One customer already moving in that direction, Vancouver-based ski and golf resort operator Intrawest Resorts, replaced its Sun, Oracle, and BroadVision infrastructure with Windows 2000 and SQL Server 2000 and plans to move to .NET and offer Web services. In fact, Intrawest has started offering early versions of Web services for functions such as online booking of lodging or lift tickets and automated delivery. When a customer who rented ski equipment online arrives, for example, resort workers already know the customer's correct sizes.
"Using this Web serviceslike model is actually better business for us, because if we know in advance what customers want we can apply the magic of planning," said Matthew Dunn, vice president and CIO of Intrawest.
Microsoft will charge HailStorm consumers and corporate users on a subscription basis, a model the company has been eyeing for years. Some base-level Internet services would remain free, but other HailStorm services would come with a price that would be based on richness of features or frequency of use.
Potentially more lucrative than end-user subscriptions is exploiting Web services in the business-to-business market, which Microsoft plans to hit despite the fact that to date its .NET strategy has been primarily aimed at consumers.
Bob Muglia, vice president of .NET services at Microsoft, said Microsoft could charge partners "a moderate amount" to be Web service operators, with additional charges for support, large volumes, and other factors.
Microsoft's ambitious HailStorm project is a long way from completion.
First half of 2001: New version of Passport authentication service; design previewSecond half of 2001: Notification services; developer beta2002ProductionSource: Microsoft