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Microsoft Readying Live Development Platform

Microsoft has said that getting third-party developers to build their own applications on top of its Web services will help push Redmond's Windows Live initiative over the top.

Microsoft has said that getting third-party developers to build their own applications on top of its Web services will help push Redmond's Windows Live initiative over the top. So far, however, it's been unclear how the company intends to make this happen.

Microsoft's MIX07 developers and designers conference is set for the end of April in Las Vegas, and promises to be the venue where the company reveals more of its plans to make Windows Live into a bona fide platform for third-party developers.

Company officials have long hinted they are working to create such a framework for Live services, but have been short on details. Instead they have repeatedly said, "wait for MIX07."

However, Adam Sohn, director of worldwide sales and marketing in Microsoft's online services group, recently agreed to talk a little about what's in store.

First, the company is working to present a more cohesive architecture than it has previously for its emerging Live Services businesses -- something many industry observers have been concerned about.

"The fragmentation of the Web is a major source of dissatisfaction today ... Our vision is [to provide] a one-stop shop." Ultimately, the idea is to deliver a framework built on top of the diverse Windows Live APIs.

But it won't happen all at once.

"In phase one, [we're defining] how do you look at all of the services and how do you put together an architecture for that?" says Sohn.

With the emerging framework, APIs fall into two fairly distinct categories-infrastructure and applications, Sohn adds.

So what constitutes the infrastructure components of the Live services and APIs? That would be identity, relationships, advertising, domains and storage. Applications services, on the other hand, include instant messaging, search, Spaces, mail/calendar, expo (classifieds) and mapping.

Sohn also says the company hasn't decided whether the adCenter service will be mandatory in the future, despite reports to the contrary: "We're not at a point to say what's mandatory and what's not."

Despite officials' reluctance to provide much detail, the company has made some obvious preliminary moves to fine-tune its Live development platform message.

For instance, in late January Microsoft announced a Windows Live SDK of sorts, even though, so far, it only amounts to a Web page with links to the individual Web services SDKs and their attendant Windows Live APIs.

Slowly Taking Shape
Much has been written and said since Microsoft announced its Live initiative in November 2005. Internally, Chairman Bill Gates and Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie have championed the idea of an advertising-driven model for providing software as a service.

Currently, some of the pieces have been delivered, at least in version 1 form. Others, such as the Windows Live Contacts Control, which Sohn describes as providing access to "probably the largest social network on the planet," are still in beta test.

Microsoft also released the Live Search SDK in late January (see "Live Search Service and SDK Bow").

Meanwhile, as Microsoft is developing the software needed to make Windows Live work, the company is also dashing to create enough server space to provide Live services on a truly global basis. That is, Microsoft is investing heavily in data centers to support all of those users and their services.

"This is a scale game," says Sohn. "You want everyone to plug in so that you get really meaningful scale [and in order to do that] we have to have huge geo-scaled operations."

Microsoft said in January it will invest $550 million to build a 470,000 square foot data center in San Antonio, Texas. The 40-acre site will feature two buildings housing tens of thousands of servers and will take a year and a half to two years to complete, the company said.

A year ago, the company purchased 75 acres in central Washington, primarily for its proximity to Grand Coulee Dam's electrical output. That site, where construction began last May, could eventually provide an additional 1.4 million square feet of data center space, according to the Lawrenceville, N.J.-based news and analysis site Data Center Knowledge.

In addition, last spring Microsoft hired Steve Berkowitz, who was then CEO of rival search firm Ask.com (previously Ask Jeeves), to be the senior vice president in charge of its Live efforts. He's widely viewed to have turned around Ask.com's downward trajectory, making it the second largest "pure search" site on the Web, according to his official Microsoft biography.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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