by May 6, 2001 0 comments

Microsoft’s recently announced ‘HailStorm’ Web services initiative has the potential to change the way we use computing devices and applications. It offers an exciting view of what this technology has to offer, but at the same time has raised questions about the dynamics of the whole Web services market–who will pay for these services, who will control the data, and how applications should be implemented. 

The big picture

HailStorm is the next step in Microsoft’s Web services vision, outlined as part of the .Net platform last year. So far the company had worked to promote the underlying standards which will underpin the delivery of Web services. HailStorm is a collection of services that offers intelligent and centralized management of personal data across all the devices and applications (known as end-points) that an individual wishes to use.

HailStorm services are designed to manage information such as address and location, contacts, user profile, notifications, messages, favorites, and payment data. A user will be able to access and control all these items from any end-point, and can decide what access should be granted to other individuals, applications, and websites that wish to retrieve this data. This model will allow a user to maintain a single profile that can be used, at the individual’s discretion, by many different applications.

HailStorm services will be hosted by Microsoft, and can be accessed from any client or server platform, regardless of the operating system or runtime environment. With this capability, Microsoft is positioning HailStorm as an open platform for profile storage and maintenance, but this has understandably caused concern amongst rival vendors, which feel that the company is again trying to establish a dominant market position. The concerns center on the fact that Microsoft’s own applications and operating systems (particularly the forthcoming Windows XP and Office XP) will be optimized to work closely with HailStorm, and that this establishes a de facto tie-in to Microsoft technology.

The company has also said that whilst some of the basic services will be offered free of charge, HailStorm will be run as a revenue-generating business, with charges being levied from users for more advanced and premium services. This is an interesting indication of how charging for Web services might work.Because these applications will be invoked from a remote server, billing could be done either on a subscription model, or on a per-use basis, using some form of micro-payment.

Butler group opinion

Microsoft has a significant lead in this technology, and it is not surprising that it has chosen to leverage this advantage to release its own Web services. At the launch, Microsoft released details of partners, including eBay and American Express, who intend to build applications around the HailStorm platform, but users as well as vendors are apprehensive that the company is tying them too closely to its own solutions. The HailStorm technology is exciting, and is an indication of how powerful the Web service model will be. In the long run, however, Microsoft may come to regret that it did not take a more consensual approach to this project.

Extract from Butler Group OpinionWire
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