HailStorm was unveiled by Microsoft on March 19, 2001, 6 months after it had been instrumental in launching WSDL and UDDI, and 9 months since its joint efforts with IBM to formalize SOAP. HailStorm was very much a trial balloon, one could even say a shot in the dark, to initiate a dialog with the marketplace on the possibilities of XML Web services. It also gave Microsoft an opportunity to expound on its then-nascent .NET strategy. It was a political manifesto on Microsoft s vision when it came to Web services and .NET.
HailStorm was an amorphous set of services, all of them in the form of Web services, meant to help developers create other Web services. They were as such best viewed as enabling Web services. Microsoft even talked about a HailStorm architecture that would ensure that these enabling Web services could be seamlessly and consistently exploited by other Web services.
At the time of HailStorm s relatively high-profile rollout, Microsoft stated that several big names , including American Express, ClickCommerce, eBay, Expedia, and Groove, already had conceptual demos that made use of the HailStorm services and as such were showing an interest in this new .NET technology. However, much of these initial machinations involving HailStorm revolved around the then still somewhat new Passport and Passport Wallet. This was how the perception came to be that Passport was somehow intrinsically intertwined with all of Microsoft s Web services initiatives.
The quintessential HailStorm application touted by Microsoft involved the online purchase of an airline ticket ”after one had profitably perused the Web for the desired schedules and ticket pricing. This is where Passport and Passport Wallet kicked in. Passport, with its single sign-on, would enable you to easily flit from site to site, accessing premium members -only services without the inconvenience of having to repeatedly log on.
The personal information maintained , and possibly even automatically accumulated , by Passport Wallet would then simplify service selection by remembering your preferences and habits. Finally, when you were ready to actually purchase a ticket, Passport Wallet would provide all of the necessary credit card and ticket delivery (e.g., street address) information ”as well as seating and dietary preferences. This was pretty close to a utopian Web experience, but it did not end here.
When you made a reservation through HailStorm/Passport, HailStorm would actively monitor the status of that reservation on behalf of the user . If the flight was delayed or canceled , HailStorm, in theory, would notify you, in real time ” la today s .NET Alerts service. One could even take this scenario further. In the event of a flight cancellation, HailStorm, while in the process of notifying you of this annoying event, could also be diligently looking for alternate flights and preparing a list that you could conveniently look through. All of these are well within the realms of today s software technology.
The problem, vis--vis HailStorm, is that Passport Wallet, so key to the automated e-commerce applications envisaged for HailStorm, is no more. Furthermore, Passport itself is under threat. Consequently, the overall, grandiose manifesto of HailStorm has to be diluted. Rather than the interconnected , long-duration transactions originally envisaged, as in the flight reservation scenarios, what we are likely to see are more self-contained services such as .NET Alert and MSN Messenger Connect. The bottom line here is that HailStorm, though now no longer a mainstream, strategic initiative, did show the world some of the possibilities inherent with Web services technology.