After months of promises and false starts, Microsoft moved to make Windows relevant in the post-PC-centric computing era yesterday with the unveiling of Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS).
Renamed Microsoft .Net, the new internet-based platform will facilitate an "information when you want it" era, chairman Bill Gates said.
Now the project will fall under immediate scrutiny on both the technological and legal fronts. Microsoft's competitors say the software giant is late to the internet services game, and also wonder aloud whether such integration is appropriate for a company found guilty of antitrust violations.
Elements of the Windows platform will be enhanced and changed in the .Net platform. For example, the user interface is being upgraded to what Gates termed the "user experience". Other changes mean that compound documents are replaced by the Universal Canvas, a new technology Microsoft planned to show off at Forum 2000; the Windows file system is replaced by an XML store; application programming interfaces become "building blocks"; and the standard client group, now limited mainly to PCs, encompasses every device possible.
While the ultimate goal of .Net is to interact with every device available, Gates acknowledged that it would work best with clients that have .Net code on them -- a familiar situation to critics of the company who claim its offerings, such as the Internet Explorer browser, work better with Windows software than with alternatives.
Gates said the .Net vision can be traced back as far as 1990, when he began preaching the company's "information at your fingertips" vision.
"There's a big difference today, though. The underlying technologies and the ability to make those things concrete is quite clear," Gates said. "It's quite clear because of industry progress, it's quite clear because of investments in research we've made over the intervening years. This is quite concrete for us, even though it rolls out over a multi-year period.
"How do you take software to enable over many devices? That's a challenge we've been thinking about for many years," Gates said.
Gates and Steve Ballmer first discussed NGWS in January, when Ballmer was promoted to CEO and Gates took on the role of chief software architect, in order to devote more time to the project.
After several delays, the Redmond, Washington-based company set June 1 as the date for Forum 2000. However, the date was pushed back three weeks when it became apparent that US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson was about to issue his antitrust ruling.