IIS has always had an identity crisis. Is it a platform for hosting and building web applications, or is it a web server product?

Well, for the first time in IIS product history (that I am aware of, anyways...), IIS is treated more like a product with a competitive purpose instead of just being the ho-hum infrastructure that everything runs on and everyone depends on, yet no one maintains nor invests in.

Why do I say this?

Well, for one thing, we are actually planning on doing integration with Visual Studio to provide proper wizards and code project templates to allow developers to easily and correctly write modules to extend IIS funnctionality. This includes native code (ISAPI, Global Modules, and Handlers) as well as managed code (Managed Modules and Handlers). Hopefully, this preemptive action avoids debacles like the MFC ISAPI Template as well as establish IIS as a legitimate target for developers to enrich web server functionality.

Wait, it gets better. Not only will you get Visual Studio integration to easily start a project and code templates to help write the extensibilities modules, we will also provide WiX templates to allow you to quickly compile your extensibility modules and configuration into a MSI package and then deploy it to other machines.

Oh, and another random thought... maybe I will join an Open Source project on Source Forge to provide a MSI CustomAction to configure IIS7 for use with WiX. I think lots of people would benefit from that. I have been consulting with Rob and several other WiX contributors on the existing CustomAction for IIS for a while now... ;-)

These are clearly NOT things that a pure-platform play would consider...

Want more visible evidence of IIS acting more like a product? How about putting the crosshairs on Apache? Those of you who attended TechEd 2005 in Orlando probably saw the Penguin in crosshairs T-shirt...

Dare I say it... ONE of the reasons why Apache has a 70% (hmm... it is well under 70% now and progressively dropping every month, according to Netcraft... interesting... no comment ;-) ) market share in host names is due to lack of competition. Microsoft simply has not focused on producing a web server product but rather a platform to support all its other server products.

With IIS6, Microsoft has a web server squarely able to compete (we still have to make up for years of Apache module investments, but there are only a few big ticket items there and most users should be satisfied - like URL Rewriter, Request Forwarder, Virtual Websites, and CustomAuth. It is an embarassingly small lead if you think about it. You see, it is not that we cannot do it; it is that we were never directed / mandated to do it.

Well, all I can say is that it will be interesting to see how this competitive landscape shapes up in the next couple of years as IIS6 gears up and IIS7 gets released.