Microsoft Engagement with Open Source Projects

Josh Ledgard Program Manager working with the Visual Studio – Community Team at MSFT has a great post regarding the broader collaboration between Microsoft and the vast open source community (via /.).

“It should be easy for teams here at Microsoft to develop extensions to their platforms and potentially pieces of the platforms with customers in an open/transparent fashion. What better way (especially for teams that make tools for developers) to form real connections with developers than working with them collaboratively on real technical challenges?”

“Working with customers on actual source code forms a stronger connection than simply answering their questions in the newsgroups. You get to see, in a more real way, how customers work with code and where holes in your platform exist since you are effectively dogfooding.”

“Engaging the “open source crowd” is something that we have historically neglected.”

Josh is looking for suggestions and as Anil points out, the Slashdotters’ comments are surprisingly constructive.

For example…

Jonathan Wilson writes: “In terms of what I would like to see Open, one big thing would be the Microsoft Visual C++ Runtime Library and associated components.”

sandman writes: “Build tools, in general will probably get a good reaction to being opened source. Also the user communtity for those tools is the communitity which can do the most with them.”

Plus, many comments regarding the open sourcing of IE.

Personally, I’d like to see InfoPath as an OSS project or at least open the file format and allow the client to be freely downloaded or packaged with Windows like IE is today. (e.g. HTML is the open file format for IE and the client is a free download.)

WinFS is a Database Platform

Samuel Druker the Microsoft Development Lead for WinFS speaks on Channel 9 in video and in the threads about how WinFS will mean much more than simply full-text searching. (via Philipp Lenssen)

Quotes from Samuel regarding WinFS differences with respect to the current crop of Personal Search Tools:

X1 (and enfish and lookout) do the job for full-text search on the stuff they know about in the particular application they support. However, WinFS is a database platform. As I said in the other video, it’s a storage platform. Developers write new apps, those apps use schemas to describe the user’s data and rely on the system repository to hold those items. Full-text search is just one thing that you can build on that. Much more important, IMO, is what the database guys call query and relations.”

“As for Quicksilver, I can’t stress the non-comparison enough. WinFS is a development platform for persistent storage. It is not just a search tool for files, it is not just a relational database shoehorned into an OS. It is a full-fledged platform component.”

Revamped MSN Search (soon)

My buddy Martin over at BA-Insight (who incidentally kicked-off a great new blog on enterprise search) sent me a link to this article on CNET about comments Bill Gates made during a media briefing in Sydney Australia regarding the new revamped MSN Search capabilities Microsoft is set to release in July. Here are some interesting yet not surprising quotes from the article.

“Microsoft’s chairman told a media briefing here that the company had “several milestones with its search site” on the way.”

“In July, the format of the site will change–and so will the quality of what you get–and the way it’ll look is dramatically improved,” Gates said. “It’ll be later this year that we actually roll out what’s entirely our own back-end driving the search”.

Microsoft had been doing linguistic research for more than a decade that “actually lets us parse and understand documents,” he said. “That’s where you can bring in the idea: Don’t show this person a restaurant if it’s not nearby (or) don’t show this person something about…potato chips if they mean computer chips.”

“Gates said the future of search includes personalization, understanding local information and having the ability to analyze semantics of a document, browse databases and attach domain knowledge.”

Building Your First Business Process

Scott Woodgate over at MSDN TV demos “how easy it is to build a business process using Visual Studio .NET and BizTalk Server 2004, expose that business process as a Web service, and then consume the business process inside InfoPath – all within 20 minutes.”

After spending a week learning how to do something similar with the Integration Tools found in PeopleSoft 8.44 I can honestly say that VS.Net + BizTalk Server 2004 is wicked cool.

Although, keep in mind, Scott’s presentation is a typical slick product demo and there’s plenty going on with his process. So in reality, your mileage may vary.

Thanks for link Martin!

OneNote 2003 Service Pack 1 Preview

MSFT made a preview of OneNote 2003 SP1 available yesterday.

In addition to being able to “Record video notes”, there are a number of other niceties too — like for example inserting documents from other Office programs into OneNote and the ability to share OneNote sessions in real time.

IMHO, OneNote is a wonderful environment for aggregating and now sharing disparate information.

Yet, there’s still no mention of MSFT opening the file format.

Granted they have never been known to be so forthcoming in that regard, but given now the diversity of what you can pack into a OneNote file “archive”, it occurred to me that an ideal export option would be to represent a OneNote archive as a Semantic Web friendly RDF structure.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know… Not another Semantic Web rant It’ll never happen.

Well, at the very least, I would still like to see Wiki integration with OneNote. Then again, this is only a “preview”. So, perhaps there’s hope with the Office 2003 SP 1 release later this year.

Enterprise Search Opportunity

Among the many interesting quotes in the recent Business Week Online Article regarding Microsoft’s Midlife Crisis, I found the following quote suggesting that one of the features scrapped from the initial release of Longhorn will be in the updated file system (WinFS).

In particular, it appears that WinFS will not include the ability to index and search corporate file systems.

“Longhorn will now ship with a scaled-back version of the file system. The current plan, in practical terms, means people will be able to search their PCs for documents and information related to each other, but they won’t be able to reach into corporate servers for similar files.” (link via John Battelle)

Excluding this feature from the initial release will certainly give MSFT more development time, but I also think it may be a way of pushing the features into a separate product such as SharePoint Portal Server.

Whatever MSFT’s reasons, the end result is that this exclusion provides another opportunity for Enterprise Search companies (such as Google) to get entrenched in the corporate infrastructure long before Longhorn hits shelves.

InfoPath Runtime Plea

At work, when I evangelize the benefits of using InfoPath as a tool for structured data collection and distribution, I talk about how, IMHO, InfoPath will someday unlock all the black-box business intelligence stuffed into Excel, Word, PowerPoint et al. In addition, I mention that it’s primarily an end-user tool that doesn’t require developers to implement any of those simple form-based workflow processes that deluge most corporations with endless forest killing paper forms.

Invariably I get a response back asking if this can be done in the browser or if users need InfoPath installed on their desktop to enter data into forms. I regrettably say, “For now, the answer is yes, but I think that will change.”

Well, it has been roughly a year since I first started playing with and touting InfoPath’s virtues. Unfortunately however, it appears that a ubiquitous InfoPath runtime is still not available.

Apparently, I’m not alone with this gripe either.

Today Jon Udell quotes an anonymous InfoPath user regarding this missing element:

“I believe a primary requirement of a forms application is to make it possible for the form to be completed by a wide audience of people from whom I wish to gather data. A key driver, at least in the world of my customers, is to be able to distribute the form widely to people who aren’t necessarily connected to the network and get them to fill it in and return it. I don’t want to authenticate these people in my network. They won’t install software on their computers just to fill out my form. They don’t want to learn a new application.”

“There is no ability to save the form template as an ASP.NET web form.”

I think the last line is killer and doesn’t seem to be technically difficult.

Death of the Password

CNET has an article that highlights some of Mr. Gates’ comments during a speech at the RSA Security conference held this week in SF.

In particular, the following comment, which we’ve heard before with the hype around Smart Cards, but hopefully the obvious end to passwords will come to fruition sooner this time than later (this time).

“Bill Gates predicted the demise of the traditional password because it cannot “meet the challenge” of keeping critical information secure.”

In addition, some information regarding MSFT’s own “tamper resistant” biometric ID-card software was revealed:

“Microsoft also demonstrated “tamper resistant” biometric ID-card software, developed by its own research arm, that can be used by both small and large companies to create ID cards using a digital camera, an inkjet printer and a business-card scanner.”

“To create an ID card, the software requires a photograph and some basic information about a person, such as name and date of birth. This information is processed by the software to create a digital signature in the form of a bar code, which is also printed onto the ID card. If any of the information on the ID card is altered, it will not correlate to the signature and the card is rejected, according to Microsoft.”

“Gavin Jancke, development manager at Microsoft Research, who demonstrated the software, said one of the key aspects of the system is that it does not require a database because all the information is already stored on the card.”

Hmm, I suppose they could be printed on “actual” Passports too…

Microsoft tests InfoPath update

Via CNET I just read that today Microsoft released an update for InfoPath

“Microsoft released a trial version Monday of its first major update to InfoPath, the new electronic forms application released last year as part of the Office family.”

“The beta version of Service Pack 1 (SP1) includes several significant new features, said Microsoft product manager Bobby Moore, along with the typical performance enhancements and bug fixes included in a service pack…”

“Updates to InfoPath include new security features that allow extended use of digital signatures, Moore said, plus full support for handwriting recognition and other elements of Microsoft’s tablet PC format. The updated InfoPath also allows users to swap forms as e-mail attachments, rather than having to retrieve them from a central server.”

“The update includes significant changes for developers, Moore said, including new scripting support for Microsoft’s Visual Studio.Net and Visual Basic environments. The new version also enhances support for use of custom dialects, or schemas, of XML (Extensible Markup Language), the basic language behind InfoPath and other e-forms products.”

I’m updating it right now…
Correction: I’m trying to find the download link. Office Update doesn’t seem to supply it. Odd.
Update: I found the InfoPath 2003 Service Pack 1 (SP-1) Preview Download Link.
Note however:

“Before you install the preview software, you must first remove any versions of InfoPath 2003 that are installed on your computer.”

Longhorn is not Entrenched in WinFS

Tom’s Hardware Guide provides an in-depth review of Windows Future Storage (WinFS). Including some points I wasn’t quite sure of myselft…

“Microsoft will not be building an entirely new file system after all. Windows Future Storage (WinFS) is integrated into Longhorn as a modular extension to file management.”

“Technologically, Longhorn is in any case not entrenched in WinFS. The OS works just as well on FAT32 volumes. Conversely, WinFS can be used in other systems, too…”

Good stuff!

Rich Client Ubiquity

Michael Sippey has a couple of good comments regarding Salesforce.com’s recently released “Office Edition,” which integrates its hosted SFA tightly with Microsoft Office:

“The company that championed went overboard with their “no software” positioning is now touting their integration into the world’s most widely used piece of personal productivity software. Which really isn’t that big of a deal, when you realize that this fits in perfectly with Microsoft’s strategy of morphing Office into a combination productivity app and very rich client…”

“If you’ve seen any of the whiz bang demos of Longhorn, it’s abundantly clear that the browser is not where it’s at for Microsoft. Instead, it’s all about the rich client. While .NET application development isn’t for everyone, there’s enough interesting functionality in the new Office to enable the return of the power user — the former macro writer who can now leverage their VB skills to integrate data (through web services inside and outside the firewall) into their everyday working environment.”

As much as I love the “thin client”, the browser can’t do everything. Business users still do a majority of their work in Word and Excel. I’m increasingly amazed and at times alarmed at the sheer amount of “business logic” that is maintained exclusively in Excel Worksheets.

Although, I may not agree that this practice is necessarily a good thing, the reality is that it’s not going to change quickly.

However, providing a more fluid means to transact “business logic” between productivity applications like Excel and Word with ERP, CRM and various enterprise systems seems like a natural progression.

Syndication Friendly Longhorn

Others have mentioned the impact of the embedded RSS capabilities that will be in Longhorn. This time however, it’s Scoble talking about the broader implications of a syndication friendly OS

“In Longhorn you can store a ton of metadata with your files. You can also find those files much more easily. Why is that important to syndication? Because now you have a file system that supports sending files out via a syndication feed, storing them locally, and then letting users get to them in new and interesting ways.”