Where exactly does Microsoft want to go today? The Internet

Microsoft Windows 95's motto is "Where do you want to go today?'' Users have been
asking Microsoft Corp. the same question and not getting a compelling answer.


As a company, Microsoft has seemed a bit unfocused--except for trying to cram Windows
down our collective throats.


But when I attended the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in San
Francisco. I heard a better answer. In a word, it's the Internet.


Microsoft has adopted a companywide mindset of "embrace and extend.'' That means
it will not only embrace technology developed by competitors, but it will work to extend
that technology.


Microsoft's Paul Maritz even said, "It's not just about Windows--other platforms
are important.'' That is a profound paradigm shift for this company. Maritz did stop short
of pulling off his shoe and beating the podium, Khrushchev-style, as he yelled,
"Internet, Internet.'' But not by much.


The big key to all this is Microsoft's new ActiveX technology, which will bring static
Web pages alive with animation, 3-D virtual reality and video content. ActiveX is a
framework for creating interactive content using software components, scripts and existing
applications. The software components are ActiveX controls, formerly known as OCX (for
Object Linking and Embedding) controls.


OCXes have become a de facto standard over the last couple of years. ActiveX controls
will work with development tools such as Visual C++, Visual Basic, Visual Basic Scripting
Edition, Borland International's Delphi and Sun Microsystems' Java.


ActiveX controls will let you embed graphics viewers, animation sequences, credit-card
transaction objects or spreadsheet applets directly into Hypertext Markup Language pages.
Active scripts, including those created in VBScript or JavaScript (or Unix Perl on the
server side), will glue together these building blocks to create rich Web applications.
ActiveX automatically exposes Java classes as active controls.


The 4,500 developers at the conference got Microsoft's ActiveX development kit on
CD-ROM with 600M of Internet information and products for jump-starting Web development.
Included were the prerelease Internet Explorer 3.0, Internet Information Server (IIS),
Windows NT 3.51 updates (Service Pack 3) for IIS, a sample application and help files. If
you'd like to have the ActiveX development kit, visit http://www.microsoft.com/intdev/.
 


Internet Explorer 3.0 with full ActiveX support--controls, scripting and
multimedia--will be shipped by mid-1996. A beta version should be available on the Web
site mid-April.


The Internet client add-ons for Windows 95 and NT were promised for the second half of
1996, which I'd interpret as before the end of the year. The code-named "Nashville''
Win95 refresh should integrate Windows, Internet Explorer, telephony and conferencing.


On the server side, IIS will gain proxy services, content management, Exchange
connector and merchant services by the end of the year.


As further evidence of its newfound "embrace and extend'' attitude, Microsoft has
agreed to license Java technology for inclusion in Microsoft products. Maritz also
announced a new product, Jakarta, which he called a Visual Java development tool
positioned as the newest member of Microsoft's development lineup of Visual C++, Visual
Basic and Internet Studio.


This move to an open Internet mindset from a closed Windows mindset is like a breath of
fresh air in a previously stale room. You and I stand to reap some tangible benefits from
these changes, soon.


Charles S. Kelly is a computer systems analyst at the National Science Foundation.
This column expresses his personal views, not the official views of NSF.


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