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Microsoft proposes Net software specification

The software giant submits a draft of a proposed Internet communications specification to a key standards body that could lead to greater adoption of Windows 2000.

Microsoft today will submit a draft of a proposed Internet communications specification to a key standards body.

The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant will publish and submit version 1.0 of the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) specification to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) as an Internet draft.

SOAP, based on the increasingly popular Web standard for data exchange called the Extensible Markup Language (XML), will let business software programs communicate over the Internet, regardless of the programming model on which they are based. Microsoft is attempting to gain an advantage over competitors, including Sun Microsystems, IBM and others, by establishing SOAP as an Internet standard and incorporating it into its server-based software.

In many ways, SOAP, and Microsoft's plans to establish it as a standard, represent a reversal of Microsoft's past attempts to steer the software development business. The company many times has been accused of attempting to control the market with Windows, a de facto proprietary standard. With SOAP, Microsoft is proposing an open standard that would nullify a competitor's proprietary advantage.

SOAP, which doesn't require any Microsoft software, is a network protocol that lets software objects developed using different languages communicate with each other. Microsoft sees it as effectively leveling the playing field between Windows and development strategies based on Java. Instead of being forced to choose one model, companies will be free to select whichever is best suited to solving the problem at hand, Microsoft reasons.

Microsoft is hoping that greater compatibility between Windows-based software and Java and Unix-based systems could lead to greater adoption of Windows 2000, the company's forthcoming operating system.

Competitors fear that SOAP, in effect, could be bad news for Sun, IBM, Oracle and other Java backers since it could nullify the effectiveness of proprietary "lock-in" marketing strategies.

Nancy Lee, Sun's senior product manager for XML, said the company will take a wait-and-see approach to SOAP. Sun believes existing technology based on Java or CORBA (Component Object Request Broker Architecture) already does what SOAP is supposed to do, she said.

"Does something like SOAP meet a real need? Customers I talk to say the beauty of XML is it's simple," Lee said. "I can just exchange information with XML and HTTP. And if I want more sophisticated business transactions, CORBA seems to meet the need."

But analysts say SOAP is a good alternative.

"The fact that Microsoft is willing to submit it is a good harbinger of its acceptance," said Giga Information Group analyst Phil Costa. "If Microsoft is willing to give up control, people are more likely to trust them and use it."