Brewing a HailStorm
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Microsoft wlll need to assure the presence of a rather big lock on one of the doors in the chain; a series of seven passwords all set to "abcd" or "Fido" provide only a false sense of security -- worse than no security at all. Even Windows 2000, while not allowing a simple ESC to skip the login, may be set to presume a particular user and bypass login altogether.
Developers considering placing HailStorm at the core of their efforts are, too, asked to take a massive leap of faith. Rely upon Microsoft's robustness to keep your service alive. Trust Passport's ability to protect your customers' data. Believe that Microsoft will maintain a level playing field, not "featuring" their own My* services above yours. And all this incredible responsibility comes without more than the slightest smidge of control. Those who have already bought into the Microsoft developer space may (hopefully) find that transition a smooth one. Those outside the veil will find the offerings tempting, but I predict major trepidation.
"And rather than risk compromising the user-centric model by having advertisers pay for them, the people receiving the value -- end users -- will be the primary source of revenue. HailStorm will help move the Internet to end-user subscriptions, in which users pay for value received."
Microsoft is clearly aiming (pun intended) at a loosely coupled web service-based AOL, providing the attractive integration of experience without that gated community feel. Don't like the default e-mail client? Prefer English English in your dictionary and spell-checker? Contact manager not have a space for birthday? HailStorm promises to let you have your cake and eat it too, switching between client applications -- even platforms -- without so much as a thought about loss of integration.
Can the Samba Story be Retold? -- As we look at the emergence of .NET, are there lessons to learn from the past? Samba, the open source alternative to Windows NT systems dominating file and print servers on corporate LANs, may be one of those lessons worth examining.
With the current climate of uncertainty surrounding the Web's advertising-based revenue model, and AOL's subscription-based service going stronger than ever, Microsoft's end-user revenue model is well conceived. They're sure to bring in some of the users who just haven't gone for the more limited AOL offerings yet are much in need of the seamless integration of Microsoft's Office products. And that integration will prove, I believe, to be something people are prepared to pay for.
Should programming to the HailStorm/.NET platform indeed remove much of the barrier to entry, the concept-development-deployment-payment chain should be short enough to attract many a developer. HailStorm promises delivery of authenticated, paying users to my door, affording me the time to build the interesting bits.
"The HailStorm platform uses an open access model -- which means it can be used with any device, service or application with an Internet connection, regardless of the underlying platform, operating system, object model, programming language or network provider (i.e., Windows, Macintosh, UNIX, Palm OS, Windows CE, etc). All HailStorm services are XML Web services, which are based on open industry standards; no Microsoft runtime or tool will be required to use them."
The simple act of opening (and documenting) an API, making a service available for usage in ways not intended by its creator, leads to some wonderful, surprising, and rather useful recombinations. Microsoft is proposing an entire strategy based upon the open standards of XML and SOAP. Assuming they do remain open, from end-point to end-point, the possibilities are indeed astounding. This, in concert with their .NET strategy of empowering the developer to write applications in their language(s) of choice, will definitely have some sleeves being rolled up.
That last bit, "no Microsoft runtime or tool will be required to use them," particularly caught my eye. At first I was both shocked and thrilled. Yet I couldn't help wondering if there was something there between the words that I was missing; the word "use" was most thought-provoking. By "use" do they mean full functionality, or will there be a Win32-only extension creep? Can I really provide a HailStorm service from my FreeBSD box? Can I actually talk to the Passport server from the comfort of my Python runtime?
What, then does this openness mean to the end-user? Is my data really mine? If so, can I withdraw it all at any time and close my Passport account? How real is all this access control stuff? I've seen some ACLs in my time, and they're usually not particularly pretty or transparent. I'm fascinated by the possibility of an intuitive way of doling out (minimal) information to services and assistants acting on my behalf.
On its head
Microsoft is attempting to find a grand unifying framework for Web services, data, and software. If they manage to pull this off, Hailstorm is bound to have a major effect on users, developers, and Microsoft itself. Bob Muglia, Microsoft's VP of .NET Services, said, "Hailstorm turns the industry debate over online privacy on its head." In fact, HailStorm does much more: It turns some of what we think and feel about Microsoft on its head.
Rael Dornfest is Founder and CEO of Portland, Oregon-based Values of n. Rael leads the Values of n charge with passion, unearthly creativity, and a repertoire of puns and jokes some of which are actually good. Prior to founding Values of n, he was O'Reilly's Chief Technical Officer, program chair for the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference (which he continues to chair), series editor of the bestselling Hacks book series, and instigator of O'Reilly's Rough Cuts early access program. He built Meerkat, the first web-based feed aggregator, was champion and co-author of the RSS 1.0 specification, and has written and contributed to six O'Reilly books. Rael's programmatic pride and joy is the nimble, open source blogging application Blosxom, the principles of which you'll find in the Values of n philosophy and embodied in Stikkit: Little yellow notes that think.
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