Microsoft debuts tools, Web services specs

Bill Gates rallies developers as Microsoft announces a preview of new XML-based specifications designed to bolster Web services security.

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
5 min read
LOS ANGELES--Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates told software developers Tuesday that they will play a key role in driving Microsoft's .Net Web services plan.

"We need to make tens of thousands of programmers successful. That's how our platform will thrive. That's what will drive us forward," Gates told more than 6,800 attendees of the company's Professional Developers Conference being held this week.

Separately, Microsoft on Tuesday took a stab at bolstering the Web-based tools and specifications needed to make Web services built using its .Net tools more secure, and more attractive to businesses.

Microsoft also announced several new tools and distributed near-final versions of its Visual Studio.Net and .Net Framework tools to conference attendees. Those tools are key to rallying developers around the company's .Net Web services plan. Microsoft faces competition from Sun Microsystems and companies including Oracle, IBM and others supporting Java.

Gates touted everything from Microsoft's new .Net My Services software-as-a-service strategy to its Windows XP operating system, set to debut in retail shipping form on Thursday.

Gates said .Net My Services "is the idea of roaming your storage. This model of roaming their state across many devices is leading to a new-generation business model for the software industry. It's more oriented toward regular subscriptions."

The new specifications are part of a new software-development architecture, called the Global XML Web Services Architecture, that Microsoft previewed Tuesday. The company also previewed four new related specifications that it will submit to standards bodies after a review period.

Microsoft did not specify how long the review period will be or which standards body will handle the submission. But Extensible Markup Language (XML), upon which the new architecture is based, is a World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) standard. Microsoft said the architecture adheres to a road map outlined by it and IBM this spring at a W3C workshop.

Microsoft, Sun and other companies are battling to provide tools and other software to flesh out their plans for new Web services technology. Web services is largely a reinterpretation of older development techniques combined with new Web-based standards to build software programs that seek each other out over the Internet and perform tasks automatically.

The Web services battle between Sun, Microsoft and others has so far been a war of words. See special report: The Gatekeeper: Windows XPAnalysts say no clear leader has emerged, since much of the technology, and some of the standards, needed to build commercial-grade systems are just now becoming available.

But Microsoft has clearly led the industry rhetoric on Web services, and the new architecture is Microsoft's attempt to move the debate to another level. One of the biggest concerns of programmers just wading into Web services development is maintaining the security of XML messages, which contain easily intercepted text messages. In Web services, "there are lots of issues with trust and making sure the certificates are issued under the same standards. It's a big task," said Matt Rosoff, an analyst with Directions on Microsoft.

Microsoft announced four specifications as part of the new architecture: WS-Security, WS-License, WS-Routing and WS-Referral. The specifications are built on XML and Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), two of the emerging standards behind the industrywide shift to Web services.

The WS-Security specification outlines how to use existing W3C specifications called XML Signature and XML Encryption. Together with WS-License, the specifications outline how existing digital credentials can be associated with SOAP messages, according to Microsoft.

The WS-Routing specification, formerly known as SOAP-RP, describes how to place address information in messages using SOAP and enables SOAP-based messages to travel to multiple destinations along a path. WS-Referral allows the dynamic routing of messages between networked systems using SOAP, Microsoft said.

Also on Tuesday, Gates announced new tools to enable .Net software development on cell phones and personal digital assistants. Gates also said the next release of the Windows CE operating system, developed under the code name Talisker, will be called Windows CE.Net.

Gates also announced a software developer's kit for the Tablet PC, which will allow programmers to start writing software for the new device. Hardware makers such as Compaq Computer, Acer, Fujitsu and others have signed on to build Tablet PCs, which are expected to ship in the second half of 2002.

The Tablet PC will support handwriting, speech recognition and wireless networking connections; include a keyboard; and run Windows XP, Gates said. Microsoft is building new features into Office to take advantage of the Tablet PCs.

"The Tablet PC in a sense is evolutionary," he said. "It's like a laptop without the keyboard. Most of these will ship with a keyboard. Sometimes you will use the keyboard, sometimes without."

Microsoft made other developer-related software available Tuesday, including the following:

 .Net My Services technology preview, a software development kit that lets programmers build and test .Net My Services Web services.

 SQLXML 2.0, which adds additional XML support to Microsoft's SQL Server database software.

 XML Core Services version 4.0, which lets developers add XML support to programs they write.

 Office XP Web Services Toolkit, which links Office programs to Web services via the UDDI specification.

 Visual Studio.Net Toolkit for Windows XP, sample code and libraries that let developers use .Net components to take advantage of Windows XP's real-time communications features for building audio and video chat applications.

Gates also outlined the company's software roadmap for the next several years. This year, Microsoft will debut Windows XP and the first few .Net My Services. In 2002, the company will work with hardware makers to release Tablet PCs, a new Windows. Net Server operating system for businesses, and new e-business infrastructure software, called .Net Enterprise Server 2002.

In 2003, Microsoft will roll out the bulk of .Net My Services, will debut its next major Windows release, code-named Longhorn, which Gates said will feature more peer-to-peer technology and an "advanced presentation environment." Microsoft will also release a new round of new .Net Enterprise Servers, and a new version of Visual Studio.Net.

Later on Tuesday, Microsoft is expected to reveal additional pricing details for its .Net My Services plan. And rival Sun announced new support for SOAP and other Web standards as part of the Java 2 Enterprise Edition specification.