I wouldn't be surprised to see anything at this point; this is the Wild West in terms of licensing models, ... Everyone is looking for models right now.

The perception among a lot of customers is that nobody understands Microsoft products like Microsoft. Many of them want the security of that direct relationship with Microsoft.

[Until the release of J2EE 1.4] you have a situation where Java developers have to work in potentially non-standard ways to support Web services, which isn't necessarily a terrible thing if you're working with one of the major vendors' tools suites like IBM, Sun, or Oracle.

They're taking a more intimate role, and not depending solely on partners to give that support. It is a response to backlash from customers who wanted Microsoft to have more of a role there, to stand as the ultimate backstop for support.

I really just see it as a placeholder, it's really not all that important.

That's where they're stepping up to the plate and saying, 'We at Microsoft are going to get more involved in the top-end, mission-critical [support] available from partners, be it HP or whoever.

It does a very hard thing: it makes Microsoft a sympathetic character.

Interestingly, it sort of raises some of the issues about Microsoft bundling features into the operating system, which of course has been core to the whole antitrust issue.

It comes out at sort of this strange time in the company's product evolution, the last gasp of the DOS line and Windows 98.