The .NET Future…

By Brad Wardell

(bwardell@stardock.com)

 

Translating it into real world meanings…

 

Disclaimer:

I have no affiliate with Microsoft.  I don’t have any inside track with Microsoft.  Heck, our company doesn’t even have a Microsoft developer or marketing rep!

 

What it means for you…

Yesterday Microsoft outlined its .net strategy.   There is a good article on it at ZDNet about it:

http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2592779,00.html?chkpt=zdhpnews01

 

Microsoft’s plan might seem foggy at first but what it essentially amounts to is switching the focus from buying products to subscribing to services. In a few years, a majority of the computing public will be wired to the Internet via a high speed connection.  This will transform the way we work and play on our computers.

 

There will be services that allow you to get your daily work and play done (subscribing to access the latest/greatest word processors and games) which we’ll call “content services” and there will be a service underneath all this that connect you to all your devices and data seamlessly which we’ll call ROOT.NET.

 

Microsoft’s goal is to be the leading provider of the various content services and to be THE ROOT.NET.

 

So how does Microsoft get everything and everyone to work together?  That’s where XML comes in. They want to tie everything together with XML so that all devices and data can work together seamlessly.  So be wary when reading articles that talk about “putting everything on the web” because what I suspect Bill Gates means by “The web” and what the typical columnist thinks of it are entirely different. 

 

Let’s use some examples:

 

You’re going to the airport, your e-Ticket will be on your PocketPC.  Using wireless communication to a remote location it will retrieve your ticket information and tell the device being held by the person “collecting” the tickets where your seat it and such. The computing will be done by that remote location.

 

It means when you load up Word 2005 that various parts of Word will be located in various locations. Some on your local machine, some on a remote machine, some elsewhere depending on what you’re doing. You’ll write your document and save it do one of your many web folders whose location will be arbitrary.

 

It means that if you’re subscribing to GamingExtremist.net (made that up just now) you’ll be able to choose several games available that month and when you run it, parts will be “Cached” locally and parts will be external.  At the end of the month, you may or may not have access to that game anymore depending on your service provider.  BTW, it means you’ll also need to get used to the word “locally cached” as it will be the new politically correct buzzword for meaning files stored on your local machine because the people making the product come to realize that not everyone has a 100 megabit internet connection.

 

It means that once voice recognition is actually useable, driving down the road and talking to your PocketPC and asking what time Star Wars: Episode III is playing at the local theatres. The PocketPC talks to a remote location which quickly does the computing and returns the results and tells you in plain English what you are looking for.  I then say “Tell Bob and Amanda to meet me at the AMC Livonia at 3:30 to see Episode III.” My PocketPC isn’t powerful enough to do voice recognition yet but it sends my voice to a nearby mega server cluster that is which in turn finds where Bob and Amanda are currently located and tells them what I just said. If my device is off, it leaves a text message on their PocketPC for next time they turn their PocketPC’s on.  While driving I might ask the computer to tell me what’s happening in the news on topics I pick or read my eBook to me or ask it to find out what the share price on Stardock Corporation is or ask it what the weather is going to be like tomorrow.  This example is the one that I imagine regularly that makes me the most excited because I know it’s going to happen. A combination of the Ender’s Game series and Snowcrash but in a wonderful reality.

 

The point being that data input will become arbitrary, data computing will become arbitrary and data storage will become arbitrary.  Instead, everything will take place where “it most makes sense”.  Why have the PocketPC of 2005 have to handle voice recognition when you could just send the compressed sound over to a mega server 2 hops away and have it do it there and respond almost instantly?  Why store all your data on your PC that could crash at any time if it can be securely stored (and encrypted) in dozens of different locations in which it can be brought up on whatever PC or Palm Pilot or whatever connected device you have on demand?  Why should you waste time having to configure your personal settings on any given machine when you could just retrieve your personal settings from an identity agent that knows everything about you and can set your preferences on any machine you log onto.

 

But what it means in short is that Microsoft has embraced the concept of the Application Service Provider (ASP).

 

How will it work?

Microsoft, and many others including us believe that the next stage in mainstream computing is to move away from creating products to creating services.

 

That means you’ll have a relatively small number of service providers and a ton of content providers.

 

Consumers will move away from going to the store and buy a box with a version of software in it and taking it home and using and then a year later going back to the store and buying the “upgrade”.  Oh, stores aren’t going to go away by any means, but they won’t sell products anymore, they’ll sell snapshots of content which come with a service (an example of this is Object Desktop 2000 – a snapshot of some of the content on The Object Desktop Network in the year 2000 which comes with a 1 year subscription).

 

So they’ll subscribe to something like Office.net for X dollars per month or Gaming.net or something of the like and deal with software in that manner.  Users will typically get many of these services with their computer with the first year free and then the companies will try to get you to subscribe after that.

 

“The new Gateway 2005 Itanium 2-5.25Ghz comes with a free 1 year subscription to Office.net and a 1 year subscription to DesktopPlus.net!”  Then after the year’s up, you’ll pay some seemingly low fee like $6 per month.  That’s only $48 per year which is pretty good.  But it’s great for software companies because how does it work now? You get MS Office with your computer and that’s the version of Office you use forever.  Bought your last machine in 1996? You’re probably using Office 95 (or pirating a newer version).  Now, users will be paying $6 per month after that first year.  That’s $48 more per year than Microsoft’s getting from that user now.

 

Of course, the really big mega lucrative one will be the battle for the lack of a better term, the ROOT.NET service.  Remember the example of your PocketPC (or Palm) talking to a remote computer which in turn talks back to your PocketPC or maybe even bypasses that to talk to the Airline’s central server?  Somebody is going to be running the services for that and that’s, I believe, Microsoft’s primary goal.  They want to be the guys who take care of all those services underneath the covers.  That remote machine it talked to could be your desktop machine at home or it could be some massive cluster of Microsoft.net machines.  And for that kind of convenience, surely a nominal $9.95 per month to Microsoft.net seems pretty reasonable on top of your standard ISP bill?  Microsoft is hoping so anyway.

 

So in case you’re confused, let’s summarize.

 

Microsoft’s strategy is broken into 3 parts:

 

1)          The various MS supplied services like Office.net where you’d pay a few dollars per month to have the latest greatest version of Office. New features and parts of Office would be stored remotely, some would be cached locally.

2)          The ROOT.NET service, the big enchilada that handles all the under the covers work for helping you communicate from your various devices to each other and handle keeping all your data and the data of everyone else integrated together.  This is what Microsoft is calling the Microsoft.Net “platform”.  Obviously AOL and others would like to be the ROOT.Net.  The battle of the giants will be there because just like in Highlander, there can be only one.

3)          Third parties like Stardock.net providing the services that Microsoft isn’t ready to conquer yet.  The Object Desktop Network (www.objectdesktop.net) and The Drengin Network (www.drengin.net).

 

So instead of paying a bunch of money in large clumps for products, you would handle it monthly. 

 

Technology Bill of the future…

 

MediaOne Road Runner……………….$29.95

Microsoft.net……………………………………$6.99

Office.net…………………….………………..$6.99

McCaffey.net……………….………………….$2.99

Drengin.net……………….….……………….$2.99

DesktopPlus.net…………….…………….$2.99

Symantec.net……………….…….………….$2.99

Total:                                     ~$56 per month

 

But instead of paying $70 for Norton Utilities, you’d get that as part of Symantec.net.  Heck, you’d probably get even more than that and itwoudl only cost you $36 per year instead of $70.  Same for your virus scanning, your games, etc.

 

Can Microsoft pull it off?

 

Well there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the direction things will go.  Otherwise Stardock wouldn’t have embarked on the same strategy a full year before.

 

The titans will battle it out for the root.net honor.  I don’t know who will emerge the leader there.  AOL has a lead in many respects in this area.  It’s theirs to lose.  But does AOL “get it”?  They might confuse what Microsoft is planning with some sort of ISP type thing.  Microsoft.net isn’t about being an ISP at all.  Their strategy could work without anyone using MSN. 

 

The real question is what other companies could potentially be Root.net in this scenario.  IBM, AOL, Oracle, Sun, Nokia, Qualcomm, Palm Computing to name a few are potential rivals for this.  It just depends on whether they understand it or not.

 

But a few things must happen for Microsoft’s strategy to really be a shoe in for winning the titanic root.net battle:  They have to become the leader on the palm sized platform.  In other words, PocketPC has to beat the Palm Pilot.  With Microsoft’s strategy announcement, one can now understand why Bill Gates would seemingly rashly talk about how to damage Palm computing by making Outlook not work with it.  The palm platform is their Achilles’ heel.  They have to control pocket devices in order for their plan to definitely succeed.  Because the Root.net (Microsoft.net is their shot at this) could just as easily be handled by Nokia or Qualcomm or Palm.  And unlike past MS rivals, these guys aren’t a bunch of dummies.   If you’re in Europe reading this, you can already experience some of this on your cell phones so this entire article seems like a straight forward extension.  So European cell phone companies could be most definitely rivals in this because they can implement it into cell phones today (we Americans lag way behind in cell phone technology because we have so many standards that have to be supported).

 

How does Stardock fit into this?

 

This concept is the straight forward path into the next generation.  That’s why in July of 1999, Stardock created Stardock.net as its Application Service Provider with The Object Desktop Network as its first service.  And it’s proven very successful.  Incredible technology has been created that wouldn’t have been possible.  WindowBlinds, DesktopX, WindowFX are amongst a plethora of incredible things created that have never been done before.

 

We’ve identified a number of areas that make a lot of sense for people to create services for.  The challenge for smaller companies such as Stardock is to make those bundling deals with the OEMs. You see, while thousands of people might be subscribing to ODNT directly from Stardock’s website, the way most people will subscribe to ASPs is indirectly through their ISP or as part of the package they get when they purchase a machine.  

 

 

Related Articles:

 

Stardock.net’s announcement in August of 1999!

http://www.stardock.net/media/pr_sdsnet.html

 

Article talking about how software will provided as a service. Even mentions “office.net” as an example (before office.net was even announced).

http://people.mw.mediaone.net/bwardell/article_softwaresubscriptions.htm

 

 

 

 

About Stardock

 

Stardock is a Midwestern software developer and application service provider. It is best known for two things – desktop enhancement suites such as Object Desktop with components such as WindowBlinds, IconPackager, WindowFX, DesktopX, etc.  And games such as Galactic Civilizations, Entrepreneur, Business Tycoon.

 

Stardock Corporations home site is:

http://www.stardock.com

 

Stardock.net’s website is:

http://www.stardock.net