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Hailstorm: Open Web Services Controlled by Microsoft
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Less obvious but potentially more dangerous are the engineering risks in a single, global schema, because there are significant areas where developers might legitimately disagree about how resources should be arranged. Should business users record the corporate credit card as a part of myWallet, alongside their personal credit card, or as part of myBusinessPayments, alongside their EDI and purchase order information? Should a family's individual myCalendars be a subset of ourCalendar, or should they be synched manually? Is it really so obvious that there is no useful distinction between myTV (the box, through which you might also access DVDs and even WebTV) and myFavorite TVShows (the list of programs to be piped to the TiVo)?

Microsoft proposes to take over all the work of defining the conceptual entities of the system, promising that this will free developers to concentrate their efforts elsewhere:

By taking advantage of Microsoft's significant investment in HailStorm, developers will be able to create user-centric solutions while focusing on their core value proposition instead of the plumbing.

Unmentioned is what developers whose core value proposition is the plumbing are to do with HailStorm's global schema. With Hailstorm, Microsoft proposes to divide the world into plumbers and application developers, and to take over the plumbing for itself. This is analogous to the split early in its history when Microsoft wrote the DOS operating system, and let other groups write the software that ran on top of DOS.

Unlike DOS, which could be tied to a single reference platform -- the "IBM compatible" PC -- HailStorm is launching into a far more heterogeneous environment. However, this also means that the competition is far more fragmented, and given the usefulness of HailStorm to developers who want to offer Web services without rethinking identity or authentication from the ground up (one of the biggest hurdles to widespread use of Sun's JXTA), and the possible network effects that a global credentials schema could create, HailStorm could quickly account for a plurality of Internet users. Even a 20% share of every transaction made by every Internet user would make Microsoft by far the dominant player in the world of Web services.

Non-Microsoft Participation

Also in Clay Shirky -- Decoding P2P:

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With HailStorm, Microsoft has abandoned tying its major software offerings to its client operating systems. Even if every operating system it has -- NT/Win2k, PocketPC, Stinger, et al -- spreads like kudzu, the majority of the world's non-PC devices will still not be controlled by Microsoft in any short-term future. By adopting open standards such as XML and SOAP, Microsoft hopes to attract the world's application developers to write for the HailStorm system now or soon, and by owning the authentication and schema of the system, they hope to be the mediator of all HailStorm users and transactions, or the licenser of all members of the HailStorm federation.

Given the decentralization on the client-side, where a Java program running on a Linux box could access Hailstorm, the obvious question is "Can a HailStorm transaction take place without talking to Microsoft owned or licensed servers?"

The answer seems to be no, for two, and possibly three, reasons.

First, you cannot use a non-Passport identity within HailStorm, and at least for now, that means that using HailStorm requires a Microsoft-hosted identity.

Second, you cannot use a non-Microsoft copyrighted schema to broker transactions within HailStorm, nor can you alter or build on existing schema without Microsoft's permission.

Third, developers might not be able to write HailStorm services or clients without using the Microsoft-extended version of Kerberos.

At three critical points in HailStorm, Microsoft is using an open standard (email address, Kerberos, SOAP) and putting it into a system it controls, not through software licensing but through copyright (Passport, Kerberos MS, HailStorm schema). By making the system transparent to developers but not freely extensible, Microsoft hopes to gain the growth that comes with openness, while avoiding the erosion of control that also comes with openness.

This is a strategy many companies have tried before -- sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Compuserve collapsed while pursuing a partly open/partly closed strategy, while AOL flourished. Linux has spread remarkably with a completely open strategy, but many Linux vendors have suffered. Sun and Apple are both wrestling with "open enough to attract developers, but closed enough to stave off competitors" strategies with Solaris and OS X respectively.

Hailstorm will not be launching in any real way until 2002, so it is too early to handicap Microsoft's newest entrant in the "open for users but closed for competitors" category. But if it succeeds at even a fraction of its stated goals, Hailstorm will mark the full-scale arrival of Web services and set the terms of both competition and cooperation within the rest of the industry.

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