Developer interest piqued by Microsoft technologies

But they're wondering about the timetable for delivery

LOS ANGELES -- Microsoft Corp. certainly whetted the appetite of those attending its Professional Developers Conference here this week when it demonstrated how upcoming technologies code-named Avalon, Indigo and WinFS can be used.

Many developers expressed keen interest in the new Avalon graphics subsystem, the Indigo communication technologies for building advanced Web services and the WinFS storage subsystem that will all be incorporated into the next major version of Windows, code-named Longhorn. But the absence of a timetable for the release left many wondering when they would be able to consider or make plans to use the technology.

"It's interesting, but I think it's going to be a long way out," said Christopher McCarthy, a Chicago-based senior systems engineer at Bank of America Corp. "This is too far out for us to evaluate."

Microsoft offered conference attendees developer preview bits of Longhorn and pledged to make a beta version available next year. But company executives provided no estimate about when the Longhorn wave of technologies will be completed, even though at past events they showed slides indicating Longhorn technologies could ship in 2005.

"We could use the technology today, and we won't see it for at least a year," said one developer for a manufacturing company in the automotive industry, who asked not to be identified. He said Indigo, in particular, looks like a promising way to help his company formalize how it constructs and delivers Web services.

But he said it's difficult to tell merely from a demonstration how much of the technology Microsoft will be able to deliver in a timely fashion. He expressed surprise at the magnitude and scope of what Microsoft is undertaking with Longhorn, and said any one of the parts -- Avalon, Indigo or WinFS -- would be an ambitious project by itself.

Jim Mangione, a West Point, Pa.-based technical specialist at Merck & Co., said he expects Indigo to help with integration in the company's heterogeneous environment, which includes Windows and .Net, as well as Linux and Java. "I'm just hoping it's in a production-ready state soon," Mangione said.

He said Indigo looks to be Microsoft's new messaging platform and will help with the handling of events in an enterprise rather than in a point-to-point fashion.

Jeremy Lehman, senior vice president and head of technology at Thomson Financial in New York, said his company foresees a major commercial opportunity with Indigo, even though it's just "slideware" for now. He said his company partners with Microsoft and other vendors to provide information and technology to financial services customers, and he hopes to be able to demonstrate products next year that use the Indigo technology to exchange data via Web services.

"Even if it were not to ship, if we can demonstrate effective solutions on it, then maybe people considering making expensive investments in alternatives would choose not to do so," Lehman said.

He said the proprietary middleware systems that companies now use tend to work only with internal systems; by contrast, Web services can be used for the exchange of information between disparate systems on an internal and external basis. Lehman said he expects Indigo will help ease integration, lower costs and reduce complexity.

But Lehman is also cognizant that Indigo is not yet mature, and he expects he will have to wait for its successor in order to get the semantics and richness of functionality for transactions.

Roy Schulte, an analyst at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., noted that Indigo is a superset of Microsoft's Messaging Queuing (MS MQ) technology, as well as the company's Component Object Model (COM), COM+, .Net remoting and Web services support. "Think of this as a simplification, a unification of communication middleware on behalf of Microsoft's plan," he said, adding that he sees Indigo as a very good enterprise service bus (ESB).

"It is tightly bound with the sending and receiving application more than many of the ESBs, and if you look at the feature list, it's very impressive," Schulte said.

The new graphics capabilities in Avalon also were impressive to many developers at the conference. "It's almost like Hollywood and the movies, the speed at which they can do these graphics. I think it's just amazing," said one senior developer with a label manufacturing company, who asked not to be named.

He said he thinks his company will find the new XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language) useful in building applications, since it has the ability to separate the coding from the content. A graphics person could design an interface, for example, and then hand off an XAML file to a colleague to create the code behind it, he said.

John Robbins, a Bloomfield, Conn.-based system architect at Cigna Corp., said he can foresee XAML also being useful for working with third-party design tools. He, too, likes the new capabilities coming in the Avalon/Longhorn wave to customize an interface based on the type of user. "It looks pretty slick," Robbins said.

But Joe Rockmore, another system architect at Cigna, said he's still trying to get a better handle on what's going to be stable and usable. "I got the impression they're giving a view further out than they usually do. Is this really a year out or two to three years out? A lot of these things are prebeta," Rockmore said.

Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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