PDM Conference Report – Microsoft TechEd ‘99 (July 1999)

A new venture for PDM was our attendance this month at the Microsoft TechEd '99, held in Amsterdam's RAI conference center. The subtitle of this, Microsoft's European technology forum was 'Get Fired Up'. We did. Notwithstanding any misgivings one might share with the FTC as to Microsoft's 'domination' of IT, we will attempt to convey here and in the current Editorial some of this enthusiasm for Microsoft's new technological offerings. We want to communicate what we have learned, and to imagine what may be. While we will not hype, we will neither seek to understand all the gotcha's and counter-arguments which will undoubtedly emerge. We had two objectives in going to the show. One was to get genned-up on the latest technology. But we also wanted to take a rain-check on how other industries were shaping up with their IT. How they were dealing with interoperability, with data management and generally, how they were getting along with the people from Redmond.


It is no surprise that there is not much talk of CORBA at the Microsoft TechEd. What is even worse for E&P aficionados of the OMG’s interoperability standard is that it is not even taken seriously as a competitor for Microsoft's COM. A more serious contender is thought to be Sun's Enterprise Java Beans (EJB), but that's another story. Microsoft has been working on COM for a decade or so and is able to present a rather mature view of interoperability. The current thinking is important in determining COM’s scope. COM is no longer a cross platform interoperability standard. That role has been ascribed to XML heralded as Microsoft’s CORBA/EJB killer (see below). COM is now more or less officially limited to interoperability and component software on Windows.

SQL Server

We have heard recently from John Pohlman and others of the 'move to NT'. But for most of E&P computing, this means that applications that used only to run on Oracle and UNIX, now run on Oracle and NT. This is not what is considered a 'win' for Microsoft. Microsoft's target is not UNIX, but Oracle. The goal is not (just) to replace UNIX boxes with NT clusters, but to have enterprise computing move from Oracle to SQL Server 7. Our reaction to this strategy was to think 'yeah, yeah they would like that wouldn't they' and to further reason that it would take more than just price to make a Landmark or a GeoQuest move their zillion lines of tuned code to a new database engine. Well of course this reasoning failed to take account of the fact that those people at Redmond are coming from a very strong position, and they are smart! See this month's editorial for more on the strategy.


A key component of SQL Server is the Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS). There is more to this technology than meets the eye. MTS can be used without a SQL Server database to, for instance, update, and synchronize a multiplicity of Oracle (or other) databases running on either UNIX or NT. Not perhaps a very politically correct solution but who cares? If clean authoritative data could be achieved by running data capture through what one hopes would be a user friendly data entry point running MTS then that is good news for everyone.


At one point in the proceedings, I thought that I in a Geoshare meeting. XML, the cross platform extension of HTML addresses the same isses as Geoshare, in terms of lose integration. Microsoft may be bullish about COM, but the new spin is that the whole Distributed Object approach for Business to Business data exchange is flawed! That it is flawed whether you plan to use COM, CORBA, or Sun's Enterprise Java Beans. That the true path to lose data integration is XML, tailored to industry specific business requirements.


XML is in reality the technology behind the misnamed(?) COM for Energy initiative. Here a local dialect of XML, tailored to the Upstream will make up part of the Microsoft ‘BizTalk‘ XML-based initiative for ‘open’ business to business (B2B in the jargon) data exchange. According to Paul Maritz, VP of development (until this week!) "the next five years will really be about XML". The next issue of PDM will include an in-depth look at XML.


Maritz explained that the web has proved a popular but static source of information. Now the trend is for dynamic information on the web. Just as static web has been an enabler for the sharing of documents, the new dynamic web will be an enabler of interoperability through the exchange of live data. Windows Distributed Internet Applications Architechture (DNA) is Microsoft's 'guiding' architecture, a three tier division of labors into Presentation, Business Rules and Server architecture. This will allow programmers to write applications that will work across multiple devices, so that if an information request comes from the latest web browser, or desktop application, then the full functionality of the client application will be serviced. If however, the requester is a mobile phone, then an appropriate minimal subset of the information can be supplied.

Digital Dashboard

Outlook and the Digital Dashboard (DD) form Microsoft’s Knowledge Work offering. These are extensions to Office which offer a customizable portal to information in the organization. The DD is based on Outlook, HTML, XML, OLAP and Office 2000 and supports all of these technologies native. DD Product Manager Mike Guilbert showed Bill Gates' personal DD which, apart from the stock quotes, includes TAHO - a new cross-document intelligent search capability which returns documents containing relevant information in native format.

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