Last December, I read The Road Ahead, by Bill Gates. In this thought-provoking book, Gates speculates about how the Information Highway will affect our futures. He sees Microsoft's success riding on its ability to prevail in this emerging market. The book does not, however, reveal Microsoft's plans to ensure this success. That revelation came at the March 1996 Professional Developers Conference, where Microsoft announced corporate infrastructure changes and the ActiveX technology.

First, Microsoft's Personal Systems Division (PSD), which managed Windows 95, no longer exists. The Windows 95 team is now under the Business Systems Division, which manages all NT products. Brad Silverberg, former PSD manager, is now manager of a new Internet Division that is focusing on ActiveX, a collection of tools and technologies, including VBScript, Network OLE, Internet Information Server (IIS), Internet Explorer 3.0, IIS Connectors, FrontPage, Internet Studio, and Jakarta (Java development)--see "Windows and Databases Meet the Inter(intra)net," page 28.

You can expect Microsoft to develop all Internet-related software simultaneously for Windows 95 and Windows NT. For example, Microsoft plans to combine the Windows Explorer (file manager) with the Internet Explorer (Web browser), so that even the core features of the operating system are Web aware. This combination product (code named Nashville) will be released for NT and 95 simultaneously. Microsoft will heavily emphasize the newest BackOffice products, Exchange Server and IIS.

Many people predicted Netscape would be fatally wounded when Microsoft announced it was giving away IIS. But reports of Netscape's death were greatly exaggerated. Netscape rebounded by creating SuiteSpot, a group of Internet products that includes a Web server, a development environment (LiveWire Pro) with integrated database connectivity, a mail server, a news server, a catalog server for indexing content, and a proxy server for enhanced enterprise intranet security. SuiteSpot is a comprehensive strategy that has Microsoft's complete attention.

The Internet frenzy has created some interesting industry tension. With SuiteSpot, Netscape is setting up to compete with Microsoft's ActiveX, while IBM, Informix, Verity, Sun, NeXT, Oracle, and others hedge their bets and play both sides. They all want to be ready for future corporate application development on intranets. Soon, Web access will move from a nice-to-have feature to a must have. Internet technologies are set to provide distributed, three-tiered client/server, cross-platform, object-oriented development, and more. Soon, we will all be developing intranet applications, an area expected to grow from 2.2 million servers to 150 million by 1998.

For all the players, Windows NT, messaging, and intranets have become vital to future success.