Microsoft took a major step Monday toward implementing its much-touted .NET strategy by
announcing a set of Web services software called HailStorm.
The software titan is describing the new system as a way for developers to design Web-based
services that consumers can use interchangeably on their PCs, personal digital assistants
(PDAs) and other non-PC Internet devices.
The announcement clears away some of the mystery surrounding the nut and bolts of
Microsoft's .NET strategy by showing consumers how the new services will work.
Microsoft will make the initial set of HailStorm services available in a broad beta release
later this year, with a full release scheduled for 2002.
Microsoft has enlisted the help of five major partners, including American Express,
ClickCommerce, eBay, Expedia and Groove to showcase HailStorm prototypes and conduct
conceptual demonstrations of how the new services will work.
According to Microsoft's announcement, HailStorm will help software developers emphasize the
interactivity between consumers and their software, and will be largely based on the
company's existing Passport service.
The Redmond, Washington-based company will aim HailStorm at personal and business users who
want to access their personal information, such as calendars and phone books, from whatever
machine they are using -- not unlike AOL's Web-based service, where subscribers can access
their personal data.
Microsoft said HailStorm would be useful to online shoppers by making it easy to retrieve
consumer information already being stored online.
The company cited an online travel agency as an example of HailStorm's ability to target
specific offerings to users based on their personal consumer history, without asking the
user from having to re-enter personal information.
In HailStorm's initial version, users will be able to access Web services that are equipped
with detailed personal information, such as address books, payment preferences, device
settings, calendar and inbox services, and raw document storage.
HailStorm will operate on an open-access model, meaning that users can access the system
from any PC or device that is connected to the Internet, regardless of which operating
system, underlying platform or network provider is being used. Thus, Microsoft has found a
way to steer those working on a Unix system or Palm handheld device toward Microsoft
Each of the HailStorm services will be based on XML (Extensible Markup Language), freeing up
developers to use open industry standards. The services will be available without
necessarily using Microsoft tools such as Visual Studio.NET.
Despite the interactive qualities of the .NET initiative, however, Microsoft says that
HailStorm will grant users ultimate control over which companies and technologies gain
access to their personal information -- an issue that is almost certain to draw close
scrutiny from online privacy advocates.
However, free access between devices does not translate into free-of-charge. Microsoft has
decided to detour around the tight online advertising market by passing the cost of the
services directly on to the consumers.
"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