Adding some substance to its Windows DNA 2000 platform strategy detailed yesterday, Microsoft has outlined the products and priorities company officials hope will help users turn ordinary Web pages into living, breathing, programmable services.
The cornerstone of Microsoft's approach will be native support for Extensible Markup Language (XML) across Microsoft's product line as well as the ability to loosely couple XML and messaging services. Paul Maritz, vice president of Microsoft's developers group, underscored that point with a comparison between Microsoft's vision and Sun's Java/Jini combination.
According to Maritz, a successful Web services architecture must be open and standards based, and not rely on one language. Sun's solution, where developers work with homogeneous objects written in Java and interacting through Jini, is "technically valid but has serious issues," Maritz said.
"We think instead that [a Web services architecture] will involve a model that starts with standards and builds upon that," Maritz said. "It will be message-oriented and loosely coupled, with services connected by XML-based messages and contracts written in many languages."
In addition to adding native support for XML to its product line, Maritz said Microsoft is evolving COM to provide full support for the new Web services model. The result will be an architecture that is open to virtually any system using XML.
The overarching goal of the COM evolution and the changes to the product line, Maritz said, is to ride the "tidal wave of support" that has already made XML a de facto standard to build decentralized platforms consisting of clients, services, and megaservices.
That platform, of course, will be based on a comprehensive suite of Microsoft products that will be rolled out in a two-step process over the next two years.
The first step will be comprised of a set of applications and web services with native XML support, include a litany of server products in the Windows 2000 DNA family that will enter beta testing this year and are expected to be available by the middle of next year.
Those include Microsoft AppCenter, Windows 2000, the next version of Microsoft's SQL Server database, currently code-named Shiloh, the "Babylon" Integration Server, BizTalk Server, and Microsoft Commerce Server 4.0.
Possibly the most intriguing of the offerings announced by Microsoft is the AppCenter Server, which will be released in the second quarter of next year and is designed to offer a single view of applications running in server "farms." That, Microsoft said, will address manageability and scalability issues for those building on the Windows DNA platform. That will include component level load balancing for greater scalability and assured availability, two problems that have dogged the company's NT operating system.
Windows 2000, according to Microsoft, will serve as the cornerstone for Windows DNA 2000 by offering XML support in the form of a built-in XML parser, support for XML streaming and persistence, and support for building XML data islands in Internet Explorer 5.0.
Shiloh too will offer XML support when it is released, which is currently scheduled to be the middle of next year. In the meantime, Microsoft this fall will release a technology preview of the database with XML integration and direct URL access that will allow queries to be sent to SQL Server 7.0 databases via a URL, with responses sent as XML documents.
Microsoft's Babylon Integration Server, also expected to ship in the middle of next year, will enable developers to invoke XML transactions on a host without having to change existing code or write any new code. That, Microsoft said, will be done through a new feature, an XML Transaction Integrator.
BizTalk Server and Microsoft Commerce Server 2000, which one official called the "sleeper in the product line," could in fact be the cornerstone of Microsoft's architecture. BizTalk Server will provide application integration between businesses, allowing the exchange of XML documents over the Internet. Commerce Server 4.0 will bridge the business to consumer gap, allowing for deeper personalization and expanded analysis of Web sites.
Once the Windows DNA platform pieces are in place, Maritz said, the next step for Microsoft will be to offer deeper support for a Web services architecture through a comprehensive Web services platform and more mature tools for building that platform. That phase of their strategy is set to kick in late next year and throughout 2001.
Overall, one thing that the Windows DNA platform could do for Microsoft is provide an architecture in which the client still matters. In his speech, Microsoft President Steve Ballmer acknowledged that the rise of the Internet has sparked a shift toward server-based computing, yet emphasized the continued importance of clients with the ability to run personalized code. That sentiment was later echoed by Maritz.
"We want there to be symmetry between clients and servers," Maritz said. "That doesn't mean having thin clients, it means having the right piece of software at the right time, in the right place, and the right environment."
Microsoft Corp., in Redmond, Wash., is at www.microsoft.com.