It looks like Indigo will be out just in the nick of time. Microsoft last week revealed that it will start previewing code for Indigo, its web services-based interoperability framework for Windows, in early April (the target date is sometime between March 38th and 43rd, according to Microsoft SVP Eric Rudder, speaking to delegates at VSLive! conference in San Francisco).
Indigo was originally planned as part of Longhorn, the next release of Windows, but it will now also be available, as a free-of-charge download, for the current generation of Windows desktop and server products (Windows XP and Windows Server 2003). The first beta is expected to ship in June this year, Rudder said.
An important context for Indigo came in the shape of an earlier presentation at the same conference by Soma Somasegar, corporate VP of Microsoft's developer division. Somasegar was full of enthusiasm for a notion that Microsoft is calling 'smart clients', reports InfoWorld. These are basically Windows devices that are connected to the Internet, and represent Microsoft's alternative to the 'rich client' notion of browser devices that don't need Windows. If the vendor can persuade developers to use .NET, Windows and Office to connect to online resources rather than simply accessing them over a browser connection, then Microsoft's bacon is saved.
Another, less propitious context was spelt out in an analysis by CBDi forum. Taking up the theme of web services-based interoperability that Bill Gates broached in his recent letter to customers, CBDi made the important point that "interoperability cannot be skin deep":
"Microsoft, along with SAP, PeopleSoft, Oracle and their customers all face the same situation that their core products and applications reflect legacy architectures which are essentially monolithic and hard to change ... Recently we have observed many early adopting SOA customers reaching the conclusion that componentization of the applications layer is an essential next step once the technology neutral interoperability layer has been established."
Microsoft of course has been very aggressive in its pursuit of WS-* specifications, and Indigo will go a long way towards exploiting the potential for breaking up monolithic applications into component parts. I suspect though that no one in Redmond has really bothered to spell out the implications for product managers in its Business Solutions division in Fargo and Denmark. Microsoft has learnt a lot from its multi-billion dollar acquisitions of business software vendors Great Plains and Navision, but it's probably ready to write off that off to experience now. For Microsoft Business Solutions has signally failed to progress the componentization of its products under an oft-deferred plan codenamed Project Green. What I believe Microsoft has learned is that established business applications vendors are congenitally incapable of doing what's necessary to adapt their applications to the requirements of standards-based services architectures. This valuable lesson has encouraged the vendor to concentrate on making sure that it protects its server products, while making sure that Windows and Office become the 'smart client' beneficiaries of the collapse not just of MBS but of every major business application vendor's market share.
Indeed, enterprise applications analyst Joshua Greenbaum posted a commentary late last week at internetnews.com that suggested Microsoft may have given up on MBS to the extent of putting the unit up for sale: "It's as if the home of Axapta, Great Plains, Navision, and Solomon, among others, was no longer part of Microsoft. It's as if Microsoft might be readying a sale of its misbegotten foray into the land of the enterprise. Which might not be a bad idea ..."
Anyway, here's a round-up of some of the coverage of the Indigo announcement:
Windows gets a splash of Indigo: Martin LaMonica of CNET News.com does a great job of putting Indigo in its industry context: "If successful, the communications system, based on Web services protocols, will greatly improve the ability to move information between Windows and noncompatible applications."
Users seek answers on Indigo: Heather Haverstein of ComputerWorld discovers some skepticism among users: "[It] looks nice on paper, but I will have to see it in action," says one.
Microsoft: Web Services Covered With Indigo: This news story at internetnews.com is one of several that focused on the developer productivity that promised in Eric Rudder's speech as a result of Indigo, citing an example in which Indigo cut an original 56,296 lines of code down to "just three lines of code -- one line for security, one line for reliable messaging and one for transactions."
By the way, I'm sorry this posting has been delayed ... it's been a hectic fortnight, with several big projects coming to a head. I'm just starting to come back up for air.
PS: Does SAP get this componentization message? There's an interesting interview with CEO Henning Kagermann, in which he talks about the "industrialization of the software industry." It's worth a read: SAP plans new platform as competitive weapon. Here's an example quote: "Customers won't have to plug into our CRM application completely if they want to use our CRM technology. Instead, if they so choose, they can make use of reusable pieces ... to compose their own application."