Microsoft Partners Don’t See Much EU Impact

SAN FRANCISCO — In the wake of the European Commission’s order that Microsoft unbundle its Windows Media Player from Windows and disclose interface information to allow non-Microsoft work group servers to interoperate with Windows PCs and servers as, software partners of Microsoft are questioning its impact.

While the antitrust ruling on behalf of European customers may benefit other server software vendors, Microsoft partners said they are not alarmed. Partners and developers attending the company’s VSLive, Mobile DevCon and SpeechTek conferences here, held concurrently March 23 to 27, said they’re still focused on creating applications using toolkits and Application Programming Interfce’s provided to any and all by Microsoft.

Alex Wong, an applications development architect with Bell Canada, focuses on location-based services. Bell Canada provides the coordinates, and Microsoft’s MapPoint Server provides maps and addresses to software vendors. Wong said most ISVs he works with simply use the APIs that Microsoft supplies. “Potentially it will help server software developers,” he said of the ruling, “but not in the mobile location services sector.”

“Opening the server protocols shouldn’t affect our business at all,” said Steve Stolt, director of product development for Gold Systems, a provider of software components and services to enable customer self-service systems incorporating interactive speech. “Microsoft already realized it wants to be more open. That’s what the market is demanding.” He said that the Speech Applications Language Tags (SALT) specification, developed by Microsoft and Intel and submitted as a W3C standard, is an example of Microsoft opening up its interfaces so others can work with them.

“Microsoft Speech Server is a another great example,” Stolt said. It incorporates technology from several other vendors. “They’re not trying to do everything themselves, but to partner with people.”

Stolt said that Microsoft already offers a great price on its Speech Server, compared to other vendors. Right now, only huge, rich companies can afford speech technology. Stolt hopes the lower price point may encourage mid-tier companies to adopt speech technology such as Gold Systems’.

“That’s what Microsoft does. They come in and change the paradigm,” he said. “They can afford to have a lower price point.”

While EU regulators focused on Windows Media Player and Microsoft’s server protocols, the Redmond software vendor has a much more compelling integration story in its arsenal. In his keynote speech at the conference, chairman Bill Gates outlined a vision of “seamless computing,” unveiling Speech Server 2004, Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, and a preview version of Visual Studio 2005. A more compelling pitch to ISVs might be, “seamless development.”

Visual Studio, the application development tool, lets developers create applications for mobile devices, Web services , interactive speech, and location-based services; they can run on the Web, Microsoft Windows Mobile-based Pocket PCs, smartphones and, in the case of interactive speech, on regular telephones.

The integration of Visual Studio .Net and Windows Mobile 2003 SE “is a great opportunity for corporate developers who are already used to Visual Studio, have the tools and are building line of business applications for PCs, to take all those investments they have already made and move them over to the mobile space,” said Irwin Rodriguez, lead product manager of the Windows Mobile Devices Division.

Similarly, developers can use Visual Studio to write a Web application, for example, then use a free toolkit to extend the Web app to interactive voice, via the Windows Speech Server, said Bob Clough, general manager of Microsoft’s Speech Technologies division.

While rival server software makers may hope to take advantage of more open technical interfaces to make their basic server OS work better with Windows desktops, Microsoft hopes to lock in a whole generation of developers and ISVs by giving them drag-and-drop development tools that make it easy for them to build on Windows.

As Gates said in his keynote, “Microsoft remains committed to enabling software developers to create the applications and services that will shape the future of computing.”

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