Microsoft: Charting the Course?

By Brian P. Watson Print this article Print

The software giant faces the challenge of making platforms and programs compatible.

The whispers were loud, the expectations high. The buzz around the developer community centered on "Atlas," Microsoft's code name for its burgeoning toolkit using Asynchronous JavaScript and eXtensible Markup Language, or Ajax.

So far, it hasn't disappointed: Early users say the Web development tool—which, at press time, was set for full release in January—helps them pump out applications faster than ever because it combines development technologies under one roof. But some contend Microsoft must iron out a few wrinkles before it conquers the next generation of the Web.

Michael Scheidt, software developer lead with NASD (formerly the National Association of Securities Dealers), used ASP.NET Ajax—Atlas' commercial name—to build a search front end for its clients to sift through the U.S. Department of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control list. That list highlights suspicious foreigners with whom companies are warned against doing business.

So far, he says, using the framework has cut down development times on Web applications by 38% to 50%.

David Spies, chief software architect for Fidelity Information Services' Empower division, designs loan origination software and Web sites using ASP.NET. His team built in three months a consumer-directed site for loan applications. Without the tool, Spies says it would have taken more than twice as long.

A longtime user of Microsoft tools, like the .NET development platform, Spies thinks the Ajax framework could become the industry leader. "I'll always go with Bill's money," Spies says. "If there's any sort of battle, Microsoft will be there."

First, though, some users want to see Microsoft improve on some basics. Scheidt, for one, says he'd wishes he could get quicker resolutions from Microsoft support staff on production issues. While he says he usually gets solutions within hours, he'd like the time frame to be less than an hour. Still, he says, his request might not be realistic.

Shanku Niyogi, product unit manager for ASP.NET and Ajax, says Microsoft set up developer forums online for those two products and will continue to do so. In-house developers and users often answer customer questions in the time frame Scheidt wants.

Also, with diverse but interconnected products—from its Office suite to its development frameworks—Microsoft faces the challenge of making different programs and platforms compatible. Just ask Weitz & Luxenberg's Jonathan Jaffe.

Jaffe, software development manager for the personal injury law firm, says he and his team added a number of components to Web design program Visual Studio 2003. When they upgraded to Visual Studio 2005, they realized that the versions of the software weren't compatible. Jaffe says Microsoft did not make that clear to him at the time. Then he learned the 2003 edition would not be supported by Vista, Microsoft's newest operating system.

Handling compatibility issues takes work, Jaffe says. "We're finding we have to recode things that were built last year," he says. "The challenge with these technologies is that they're not as mature, they move faster, so we're running to keep pace."

According to Niyogi, compatibility issues are a key concern. When products can't connect, he says Microsoft works to create a patch. For example, Niyogi says a patch to make Vista support Visual Basic is coming in the first quarter of 2007. "Having these things integrate," he explains, "is a fundamental part of the value we think we provide." —Brian P. Watson

At A Glance

1 Microsoft Way.
Redmond, WA 98052
(425) 882-8080


Bill Gates

Ray Ozzie
Chief Software Architect

Tom Malloy
Chief Software Architect, Advanced Technology Labs

ASP.NET includes programming languages for creating Web applications. A new version includes Ajax tools.
Reference Checks

David Spies
Chief Software Architect, Empower Division

Jeff Lynch
Mgr., E-Commerce

Jonathan Jaffe
Mgr., Software Development

Nate Cluett
Dir., I.T.

Michael Scheidt
Software Developer Lead
(301) 590-6500


2007FYTD* 2006FY 2005FY
Revenue $10.81B $44.28B $39.79B
Net income $3.48B $12.60B $12.25B
R&D spending $1.79B $6.58B $6.10B
*Fytd represents first three months as of sept. 30, 2006. Fiscal year ends june 30

This article was originally published on 2007-02-02
Associate Editor

Brian joined Baseline in March 2006. In addition to previous stints at Inter@ctive Week and The Net Economy, he's written for The News-Press in Fort Myers, Fla., as well as The Sunday Tribune in Dublin, Ireland. Brian has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a master's degree from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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