David Chappell


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Windows Live and the Good Ideas of Hailstorm  
# Thursday, March 30, 2006
As far as I could tell, I was one of the few people outside Microsoft who thought that .NET My Services--codenamed “Hailstorm”--was a good idea. The notion of Internet-accessible web services that developers could build applications on was clearly interesting, and the services themselves offered real potential: an alerts service, a presence service to figure out where to send those alerts, a common place to store contacts and other information, and more. I could easily imagine applications built on these services that would make my life better. I even devoted an entire chapter to .NET My Services in my book Understanding .NET, a decision I came to regret when the technology died.

This project's codename was well-chosen: .NET My Services brought down a storm of criticism on Microsoft. During its short lifetime, I gave talks about Hailstorm to many different groups in many countries. Largely because it included services to store personal information, the response was the same everywhere: “We don’t trust Microsoft to store our data”. Even the normally sober John Markoff, who tracked its rise and fall in a series of New York Times articles, seemed to think that .NET My Services was kind of scary.

But good ideas don’t die. Microsoft’s announcements about Windows Live in late 2005 and the latest ones at this month’s MIX 06 conference make very clear that parts of what Hailstorm offered are reappearing in a slightly different form. What’s public so far includes an alerts service, with alerts routed to a user based on presence information, a way to store contacts, and more. And unlike Hailstorm, Microsoft is talking about business models upfront, including support for advertising and others.

The Windows Live licensing does contain some interesting restrictions. Applications can be prohibited from integrating with a non-Microsoft search service, for example, a limitation that’s sure to apply primarily to Google. Google is now the current employer of Mark Lukovsky, who was the original force at Microsoft behind .NET My Services. It's plausible that Google could also provide Hailstorm-like services if they chose to, and I look forward to seeing what they decide to do. If this idea is any good at all--and I think it is--it ought to attract more than one competitor.

.NET My Services was the Apple Newton of this new market: a great idea, but the initial execution missed the mark. The first offering in a wholly new area commonly has this experience, but it does help everyone understand more about what’s really needed. Just as Palm learned from Apple’s mistakes and finally got the PDA thing right, someone will get the Hailstorm idea right. Maybe it’s Windows Live, maybe it’s Google, maybe it’s somebody else. Whoever does it, I look forward to the second coming of .NET My Services. This idea is too good to die.

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