Comdex attendees argue over .Net future

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Ron Schmeltzer had three simple questions when he stood up at the podium to discuss .Net, and for each of them he wanted a show of hands. This is how it went:

“”How many of you like beer?””

Almost all the hands went up.

“”How many of you like money?””


all the hands went up.

“”How many of you trust Microsoft?””

The response, to put it mildly, was less enthusiastic.

Schmeltzer, founder and president of Waltham, Mass.-based consulting firm ZapThink, made his point as part of a series of “”Great Debates”” taking place just outside the show floor during Comdex Fall 2002. While .Net has been discussed in depth during the annual IT conference, Schmeltzer was representing the portion of the industry that remains wary of Microsoft’s attempt to create technology around standards like XML, SOAP and UDDI. Microsoft said products based around .Net will allow businesses to better exchange data, a distributed computing model called Web services.

Microsoft officials have indicated the company is adopting less proprietary strategy in the development of .Net, but Schmeltzer told the audience of several hundred it was only a way of locking customers in. “”Look at Windows Updates. When you click on an update, you’re not buying a new product; you’re just giving them a way to continue selling a service. That’s the razor blade approach to the market.””

Mark Herring, a director of marketing at Sun Microsystems, compared .Net to television. Web services, he said, were like adding new channels to your cable package. “”But what if every time you turned on the TV, it automatically went to channel three? With .Net, you type in news, and it goes to Disintermediation between you and your customers is guaranteed with .Net,”” he said.

Great Devate organizers said Microsoft officials were unwilling to participate, leaving them to call upon software specialists who supported its technology. Don Jones, president of BrainCore, was one of them. He pointed out that there is no reason developers won’t be able to write applications based on both Microsoft’s platform and that of its rivals. On the other hand, using open standards doesn’t mean the company should willingly give up its market share.

“”Does Microsoft want to totally dominate the Internet? Of course it does,”” he said. “”They’re a publicly-traded company with shareholders to answer to. Would Boeing be upset if Airbus went out of business? Probably not.””

Jones added that Linus Torvald’s success with Linux proved that it was still possible to create technologies that successfully compete with Microsoft.

On the Comdex show floor, a few ISVs are already demonstrating how they’re using .Net to create Web services. A Golden, Co.-based firm called @Global, for example, recently launched a Web service for the insurance industry called WebMBR, or Medical Bill Review. Steve Graham, @Global’s president and chief technology officer, said WebMBR allows content from a variety of medical and insurance organizations — state fee schedules and participating preferred provider networks — to be pooled into the company’s central data library. This transaction-processing environment combines real time with medical bill review data.

“”Setting up that kind of exchange between all those groups was just so much harder to do before .Net,”” Graham said, adding that interest around the technology has helped the company’s presence at Comdex this year. “”We’ve been swamped.””

Paul Kimmel, a consultant and author of many Windows-related technology books, said Microsoft is an easy target for companies like Sun who appeal to user’s emotions rather than the facts about openness. While customer choice is important, he said it only makes sense that .Net products work best with other Microsoft tools.

“”I don’t have time to switch operating systems the way I change my socks,”” he said. “”I’m not going to be uninstalling Linux today and Unix tomorrow.””

In his keynote speech Sunday, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said the next version of its server operating system, .Net Server, 2003, will be released in April, but a test version will be available in a few weeks. The .Net Server 2003 will include an update to the first version of Visual Studio.Net, launched earlier this year.

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