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MS to test transaction technology for intranets

Microsoft will detail plans for a widespread beta program for a technology based on its ActiveX component architecture, code-named Viper, that will enable users to build client and server applications deployed on the Internet.

Microsoft (MSFT) will next week detail plans for a widespread beta test of an ActiveX-based technology called Microsoft Transaction Server designed to let users build client and server applications deployed on the Internet.

At this week's Networld+Interop trade show in Atlanta, Microsoft Senior Vice President Jim Allchin disclosed that the transaction processing middleware, formerly code-named Viper, has already entered limited beta testing. The software is being tested by several hundred customers as one component of a larger distributed architecture called Active Server technology. Next week, the company will open up the beta to all Windows NT and SQL Server users in a broader test to begin this fall.

Microsoft's Active Server framework includes the Microsoft Transaction Server(MTS), along with message queuing technology code-named Falcon, DCOM (Distributed Component Object Model) cross-platform messaging software, and a server-based scripting tool code-named Denali. Collectively, the tools let developers who know C++, Visual Basic, or Java build distributed cross-platform applications that run atop Microsoft's Windows NT and Windows 95 operating systems, the SQL Server database, the Internet Information Server Web server, and desktop applications that support ActiveX.

Using the four components in conjunction with one another, for example, companies can build an application that allows employees to check human resources information and make enrollment changes to a health plan online.

An ActiveX component running on desktops can capture information, forward it to Internet Information Server, which passes requests to MTS to change database records at corporate headquarters and at an insurance company. Since the insurance database server is at a remote location, MTS passes the change request to Falcon, which queues the information until it can be updated on the insurer's database.

DCOM, which lets OLE (Object Linking and Embedding) components communicate over networks to form distributed applications, links the entire transaction. Denali is then used to write the server-based instructions that make the application possible.

MTS, Falcon, and Denali are in roughly comparable development stages; analysts and other company watchers expect the products to begin shipping early next year. Microsoft officials will not disclose a ship date but say all three of the technologies are in development and on schedule. DCOM is already shipping as part of Windows NT 4.0, and entered beta test on Windows 95 earlier this week.

The company hasn't actually nailed down the packaging details for MTS, Falcon, and Denali, according to a Microsoft representative.

But Jim Ewel, product manager for SQL Server, said MTS will not be packaged as part of SQL Server. Version 6.5 of that server, which is currently shipping, already includes the transaction processing technology Distributed Transaction Coordinator (DTC), which works with other database servers to perform distributed updates.

"MTS extends the DTC abilities and handles general transaction services across the Internet, for instance," Ewel said. "I can't comment on Viper's packaging, but it will not be part of SQL Server."

"Next week, we will extend the beta program to more sites and will ship the next generation of the product to beta testers," said James Utzschneider, group product manager for server development at Microsoft.

Utzschneider described MTS as "a server engine that combines component software development with mission critical processing. It's an engine for building transaction processing applications out of ActiveX components."

He said Microsoft is being especially thorough with MTS's development and testing, because the technology is designed to host mission-critical corporate systems that today are built using technology proven over 30 years of development.

"The big transition (on the Internet) is to run mission-critical applications online, instead of just publishing data online. That will create an enormous demand for application servers. But users want to know that this is a mission-critical infrastructure" before they invest in technology, he said.