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A look at Microsoft's Indigo, part two

In this second of a two-part look at Indigo, we'll look at what the new technology's implications are for Web services — and for Microsoft competitors as well.

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Continued from Part One

What Indigo means for Web services
Indigo will handle communications among applications, including reliable messaging, heterogeneous interoperability, ways to build and use Web services, security, and peer-to-peer transactions. It will also handle synchronization and collaboration. In Indigo's service-oriented architecture, applications will be able to be built as services and run as services. At the core of Indigo are Web services technologies and standards such as XML and SOAP.

What this means for Web services is clear, analysts say: Web services are the future and will become the dominant way that people compute.

"It will be an encouraging factor to get people to use Web services," says Stephen O'Grady, senior analyst with RedMonk. "It simplifies a lot of tasks, and makes it much easier to design and consume services."

But O'Grady sees Indigo as accelerating a process towards Web services acceptance that has already begun, and not starting an entirely new trend.

"A lot can happen in Web services between now and when Longhorn is released," he says — Longhorn is not expected to be released until 2006. "I'm anticipating that by the time Longhorn gets to market, Web services will have a lot more traction."

Ron Schmelzer, senior analyst with ZapThink, adds that with the advent of Indigo, "Service-oriented architecture (SOA) will be the de facto way to build applications, and the fact that Microsoft is baking it into the operating system means that those not on the bandwagon will be in serious trouble."

How will it change the way that individuals compute, and enterprises build their IT infrastructure? Schmelzer expects that not only will services be built directly into desktop applications such as Quicken, but that desktop applications themselves may be built as a collection of services. Those services could potentially be used in a mix-and-match fashion. For example, he said, "When you're in PowerPoint, you could be using the features of Word, and when you're in Excel you could use macros written for Word. You'd be able to combine applications in the way that you want, not the way that Microsoft wrote them. Before, you'd have to be a developer to do this," but with Indigo's service-oriented architecture, he believes, users will be able to do it as well.

As for enterprises, Schmelzer believes that it will hasten their use of Web services, and will make it much easier for them to expose applications and services both for internal and external purposes. But this will also bring risks, he believes. With it so easy to expose services, authentication and security become more vital than ever. In fact, he says, "It will become harder and harder to delineate the line between an enterprise server application and a desktop service application. In a service-oriented approach like this, it has yet to be determined to what extent every machine becomes a server."

What Indigo means for Microsoft competitors
Every move Microsoft makes is examined in minute detail by analysts and vendors, to see what it might mean for Microsoft competitors. So how do analysts expect Longhorn and Indigo to affect IBM, BEA, and other Web services vendors, and the general Web services market?

Clearly, it will put tremendous pressure on any current Web services vendor or company considering entering the market. But it won't affect them all equally.

Schmelzer says that IBM most likely won't be affected greatly, because its large-enterprise customers "have not yet bought into .NET. The larger enterprises are using mission critical servers, mainframes and COBOL."

But he says that BEA in particular could be in trouble, because with the advent of Indigo, "the application server itself becomes less prominent; it's no longer the center of the world." Additionally, he believes that "Indigo is a big problem for the enterprise application integration (EAI) market — it will become extinct."

Smaller companies may survive by moving to create a viable service-oriented architecture (SOA) that developers and enterprises can use, in advance of the release of Longhorn and Indigo. So WebMethod's acquisition in October of the SOA company The Mind Electric is seen as a move toward building a viable SOA infrastructure before Microsoft gets there.

Perhaps the real key to understanding how competitors will be affected, though, is in understanding Microsoft's true intentions with regard to Indigo and Web services — is the company truly committed to an open architecture, or is it attempting to force Web services into a Windows-centric universe?

"Microsoft is pursuing a contradictory set of paths," believes Dana Gardner, senior analyst with the Yankee Group. "On the one hand, they're seeking integration, so that interoperability becomes easier and more standardized, regardless of the underlying platform. On the other hand, they're pursuing a Microsoft-centric, Windows-everywhere strategy."

Gardner adds that "It's hard to tell at this point which way Microsoft plans to go. In fact, I hear there are competing constituencies inside Microsoft, that some are Windows-centric, and others says that if we go the way of Web services standards, then we grow the pie overall, and if the pie grows, we grow, too."

The traditional Microsoft strategy, he says, "is to grow their business by taking away other people's business, but that happened while there was a growing market. But now that growth has slowed, it probably makes a good deal of sense to grow the pie in general, and that will help Microsoft as well."

But it's unclear whether that's the way Microsoft will go with Indigo and Longhorn.

"There's a tussle between the two perspectives within Microsoft," he concludes. "They're hedging their bets by pursuing both in tandem. It could veer one way or the other, as the market and overall business climate and trends play out."

We won't know for quite a while which way the wind blows, because Indigo and Longhorn aren't due until 2006. But in the interim, expect constant speculation by vendors and analysts alike. Microsoft competitors have a long, white-knuckle wait.

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About the Author

Preston Gralla, a well-known technology expert, is the author of more than 20 books, including "How the Internet Works," which has been translated into 14 languages and sold several hundred thousand copies worldwide. He is an expert on Web services and the author of a major research and white paper for the Software and Information Industry Association on the topic. Gralla was the founding managing editor of PC Week, a founding editor and then editor and editorial director of PC/Computing, and an executive editor for ZDNet and CNet. He has written about technology for more than 15 years for many major magazines and newspapers, including PC Magazine, Computerworld, CIO Magazine, eWeek and its forerunner PC Week, PC/Computing, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and the Dallas Morning News among others. He can be reached at

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