Gates to outline business e-commerce tools

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates will announce new technology, part of the company's Next Generation Windows Services plan aimed at the booming business-to-business e-commerce market.

Mike Ricciuti Staff writer, CNET News
Mike Ricciuti joined CNET in 1996. He is now CNET News' Boston-based executive editor and east coast bureau chief, serving as department editor for business technology and software covered by CNET News, Reviews, and Download.com. E-mail Mike.
Mike Ricciuti
4 min read
While Microsoft's lawyers continue to battle a government plan to divide the company in two, chairman Bill Gates today will return to a familiar role: that of chief techie, evangelizing the company's Windows technology.

At a conference for software developers beginning today in Orlando, Fla., Gates will take the wraps off new technology intended to make Microsoft a key player in the booming business-to-business e-commerce market.

As reported earlier, the new technology, which will help developers to design and build complex Web applications, will be embedded in an upcoming product called Biztalk Server 2000. It is also the first deliverable in the company's Next Generation Windows Services architecture for driving Windows more fully onto the Internet.

While Microsoft has a hammerlock on the market for personal computer operating system software, it has yet to crack the potentially larger market for software to build and manage large-scale Web sites. The company has also stumbled in its attempts to bring non-PC devices such as personal organizers, set-top boxes and cell phones into the Windows franchise.

To build software to link those systems--and other non-Windows-based systems--into new applications, the company is appealing to software developers with easier-to-use tools that take advantage of Extensible Markup Language (XML), a sort of lingua franca of the Internet.

XML is a Web standard touted as having the potential to revolutionize the way businesses exchange data. Microsoft, along with IBM, Sun Microsystems, Oracle and other major software makers, has adopted XML as a cross-platform data exchange mechanism, and many businesses are adopting the technology as a common language for participating in business e-commerce exchanges.

Gates today will announce and demonstrate a new feature of the forthcoming Biztalk Server 2000 called "orchestration." BizTalk Server is Microsoft's XML-based software application for linking business systems such as purchasing and procurement applications across the Internet.

Orchestration is Microsoft's technology for easily defining the business process logic that dictates how an e-commerce Web site functions and the information that needs to be passed among mainframe, Unix, personal digital assistants and Windows-based computers to complete a transaction.

A consumer buying a book online, for example, is actually using a series of software programs linked across the Internet. The visible part, or front end, of the application is the bookseller's Web site. But a long and usually complex string of technologies, ranging from inventory databases to purchasing software and warehouse order processing systems, work in tandem to complete a single online sale. Wiring those systems together in just the right way is the trickiest part of large-scale Web site development.

The orchestration technology makes use of flowcharting software Microsoft obtained when it acquired Visio last fall in a $1.3 billion deal.

Such business process automation features can make a huge difference to the thousands

Gartner analyst David McCoy says without the new business process management software, Microsoft's entry in the integration broker market would have been an underpowered offering in a competitive market.

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of e-commerce sites competing for a limited number of online shoppers. Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group, said in the business e-commerce market, tools for easily defining and redefining application logic will be crucial for both technology buyers and sellers, such as Microsoft. While Gilpin said that BizTalk doesn't necessarily lock buyers into Microsoft products, since it works with other makers' software, it does help to sell Windows 2000 and related technology.

"People are making infrastructure decisions now that they will have to live with for years. This (technology) is critical," Gilpin said.

BizTalk Server, which Microsoft claims will debut in a test version later this month, includes XML-based tools for integrating software and business process automation software. Business process automation makes it far simpler and much faster for software developers to build e-commerce sites.

Currently, most large-scale Web applications are designed by a team of architects and built by a separate team of programmers, using the architect's high-level blueprints for how the application should function. The two teams work in sequence: architects hand off the blueprint to developers, and the two teams exchange email and telephone messages during a long period while developers build the new system.

With powerful business process automation tools for mapping out the mechanics and logic of how software works, system architects and developers can work together to define and build entire applications in much less time, Microsoft argues.

Microsoft's orchestration technology does not actually generate code. Instead, it generates a definition of an application, written in XML, consisting of many separate programs, both within and outside a company, linked together.

Microsoft had originally planned to debut BizTalk Server last year but decided to delay the product's introduction to add the orchestration technology, according to sources.

Hewlett-Packard's Changengine software and Vitria's BusinessWare products, which integrate disparate business applications, already include such tools.

Microsoft has taken a step beyond competitive products, Gilpin said. "What they have done technically is visionary and challenging. It's good to see Microsoft take a step forward here," he said.

Microsoft is also expected to use BizTalk and the orchestration technology in joint Web development and marketing efforts with consulting firms, including Andersen Consulting and Cap Gemini.

Later today, Gates will also announce a new Microsoft Web caching and firewall server that will join BizTalk Server as a new component in the company's existing server software lineup. That lineup consists of the Windows 2000 operating system, SQL Server database software, Exchange messaging server, Commerce Server e-commerce software and AppCenter management tools.