The company has posted a beta version of a new application programming interface called OLE DB for OLAP, which software firms and application developers can use to make data from a variety of sources more accessible.
Microsoft also announced that 18 data warehousing and OLAP (online analytical processing) software firms have signed up to support the specification, including Business Objects, SAS Institute, and Cognos.
Microsoft contends that wide adoption of the specification by software makers will result in a broader selection of compatible products for OLAP use, easier access to information, and, for software makers, lower product development and deployment costs.
With the specification, Microsoft is attempting to solve a central problem in attempting to analyze data pulled from many dissimilar sources that don't speak the same computer language. The problem is particularly rampant in OLAP products from a wide rangle of software makers, which use specialized, and proprietary, multidimensional databases to store information.
Microsoft's spec will use the company's OLE DB technology as a common API to link any OLAP database with any client analysis tool. The spec will also tie into Microsoft data-warehousing strategy, which centers on the company's SQL Server database and Windows NT.
OLE DB is Microsoft's data access API for access to and manipulation of data stored in relational databases and nonrelational data sources. Using the application programming interface, an analysis tool company could develop a product that pulls data from a server-based corporate database and a PC-based spreadsheet file, then combine the data into a single report.
The trick will be persuading software companies to agree to use the technology. While Microsoft has signed up a number of OLAP firms, one significant holdout is Oracle, which sells OLAP technology based on its own database server.
To implement the product for OLAP technology, software developers need to download both an OLE DB software development kit and the OLE DB for OLAP specification. Both are located at Microsoft's Web site.
The specification is due for final release this fall. At that time, Microsoft will also ship a software development kit that includes OLE DB for OLAP and a sample application.