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Microsoft updates BizTalk software

The software heavyweight adds to its product that is designed to help different computing systems conduct e-business transactions.

Microsoft executives say they're making it simpler for companies to do business over the Web.

The software giant on Monday released an update to its BizTalk Server, software designed to help companies link different computing systems together to facilitate communications and e-business transactions. The update includes new software that helps automate connections between companies, and new technology that manages BizTalk and monitors the health of the transactions that occur on the software, said David Wascha, Microsoft's BizTalk product manager.

BizTalk Server 2002 is one of a growing number of products for the Microsoft .Net e-business software infrastructure, which includes the Exchange e-mail software; SQL Server database for storing and collecting corporate and Web site data; and Commerce Server for building e-commerce Web sites. The company will be retooling its entire line of .Net Enterprise Servers over the next 12 to 18 months.

With BizTalk, Microsoft competes against software makers IBM, Oracle, Tibco, Vitria, WebMethods, SeeBeyond and others in the growing market for integration software. As more companies take their businesses to the Web, computer systems that link them seamlessly with their customers, suppliers and partners have to be built. And that means business software that was never meant to be integrated, such as financial and human resource systems, must be tied together.

To help link the disparate systems, BizTalk Server uses XML (Extensible Markup Language), a Web standard for data exchange.

Analysts say BizTalk's ease-of-use and management features are big improvements over the original product, which was released in late 2000. The new BizTalk connection software, for example, allows a company to send its format for information exchange to another company. BizTalk then automatically installs the format to ensure that the two companies can communicate and understand the information they will send to each other when trades are conducted.

"Microsoft is making integration easier and easier to do," said Forrester Research analyst Chris Dial. "It basically allows you to package up the way you to interface with your company, send it over the Net to another BizTalk Server. It unwraps it, installs it and does the mapping to enable a quick connection."

Microsoft's Wachsa said BizTalk also provides better integration with Microsoft's Application Center software and its Operations Manager, which together help businesses manage and monitor the health of BizTalk and alert companies when there's a problem with BizTalk's performance. The new version of BizTalk also integrates with Visual Studio.Net, Microsoft's new suite of software development tools.

Gartner analyst Jess Thompson said that Microsoft's ease of use and low price--BizTalk's starting price is about one-tenth of what others charge for integration software--gives the software giant a good leg up on the competition. But weaknesses include the fact that BizTalk works only in a Microsoft Windows environment and not on Unix or other operating systems, he said.