Once and future lock-in

In the realm of system administration, I've written before about Monad, the new shell that passes objects, rather than ASCII text, through a pipeline. Two major new initiatives in the realms of data and business rules were announced at the PDC. LINQ (language-integrated query), the brainchild of Turbo Pascal and C# inventor Anders Hejlsberg, aims to make data management a first-class citizen of the .Net environment. The Windows Workflow Foundation aims to do likewise for workflow, but that's a longer story for another column.
The story from PDC 2005 is that the .Net vision of unifying many balkanized disciplines within the Microsoft ecosystem is finally becoming a reality. [Full story at InfoWorld.com]

I'm frankly hard pressed to see the patents on Microsoft's Office XML schemas as a source of lock-in. It's great that the state of Massachusetts is applying pressure on that front, because the software industry's Dr. Strangelove-esqe stance on patents -- a defensive, mutual-assured-destruction posture -- isn't doing anybody any good. But the file formats we use to represent text, graphics, and spreadsheet formulas are just interchangeable commodities. This was always true. Now the advent of XML makes it impossible to ignore.

I said last week that we need to reinvent the office suite for a connected world. Saving the frozen snapshots that we call documents in formats that are free and open is an important part of the story, to be sure. But the larger issue is going to be how we model the business processes for which documents are just proxies: workflow, data analysis, collaboration. Microsoft is deadly serious about raising the game to that level of abstraction. If the plans are successful, we won't be arguing about word processor and spreadsheet file formats. The processes embodied in .NET object models, and the XAML snapshots of them, will become the new strategic battleground.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2005/09/27.html#a1309