Microsoft to debut Sparkle, OS features

Microsoft to debut Sparkle, OS features

A potential Flash-killer and better ways for its development community to collaborate are among the topics Microsoft will highlight at the PDC this week.

A potential Flash-killer and better ways for its development community to collaborate are among the topics Microsoft will highlight at its Professional Developers Conference (PDC) this week, according to analysts who follow the software giant.

The PDC, which starts Tuesday in Los Angeles, is Microsoft's biennial meeting for its development community, and typically provides developers with code samples of the company's major new and upcoming product releases. With both SQL Server 2005 and Visual Studio 2005 due to ship Nov. 7, developers can expect to see nearly finished versions of these products at the show, analysts said.

A new tool set for graphics and animation, code-named Sparkle, also is widely expected to be demonstrated at the conference, analysts said. Though Microsoft remains mum on the details, word on the street is that Microsoft will demonstrate the software, expected to be similar to Adobe Systems Inc.'s multimedia development tools such as Flash, at the PDC.

Rikki Kirzner, a partner with research firm Hurwitz & Associates, said she has seen a preview of Sparkle. Though she was not at liberty to disclose specific features, she said she was "very impressed" with the tool, which "takes the good elements from" Adobe graphics- and animation-building tools to give Microsoft developers similar capabilities.

Now that the next version of the desktop version of the Windows operating system (OS), Windows Vista, is in its first beta release, that product will be a major focus of the show, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group in California. "Developers will see Vista in its glory," he said.

Since the Vista feature set has not been completed, it's likely Microsoft will use the PDC to showcase some of the as yet undisclosed functionality of the upcoming OS, Enderle said. Elements of Windows Vista's next-generation GUI (graphical user interface), which is not a part of the first beta, will be demonstrated at the PDC and likely be handed out to developers so they can begin experimenting with it, he said.

Microsoft also will display a new sense of friendliness toward its development community, with news that shows the company has given "some serious thinking" about how to solve developer issues in ways that really benefit its customers and overall development community, Kirzner said.

"If you listen to Microsoft [at the PDC] you'd think you were talking to a Java company," she said. "The Java guys have always been about 'How do I make it better for the developers, how do I get them to work together more seamlessly?' Microsoft has always been, 'Here it is, deal with it and let us know when you find all the bugs.' This is a different take for them."

Kirzner added that it's likely that Microsoft's new strategy is meant to counter open-source efforts such as the Linux operating system and Eclipse, an open-source development platform introduced by IBM several years ago that has caught on widely among Java tools vendors.

"If you look at the mass migration toward Linux and Eclipse, how does Microsoft counter that?" she said. "They counter it by creating an environment that is as equally friendly and opportunistic for its developers."

Last week, Microsoft acknowledged that at the PDC it would release several APIs (application programming interfaces) to help developers build new applications, and debut features for search, instant messaging and mapping products from its MSN division. Microsoft is playing catch-up to Google and Yahoo in the search and mapping tools arena in particular, so is looking to leverage its significant development community to promote adoption of products such as MSN Search and MSN Virtual Earth.

Microsoft also this week should shed more light on how its purchase of Ray Ozzie's Groove Networks will fit into its product road map, Enderle said.

In March, Microsoft purchased Groove, a company founded by Lotus Notes brainchild Ozzie, but the software giant but has not fully disclosed exactly how Groove's collaboration platform will fit into its portfolio.

Microsoft executives have said the company will use Groove technology and Ozzie's role as Microsoft chief technology officer to enhance the collaborative capabilities of products such as Office and SharePoint Portal Server.

"Microsoft has always been light on the collaborative side," Enderle said. "It's about time they show what Groove is going to turn into at Microsoft."

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