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Microsoft releases BizTalk e-commerce software

The company finally releases its BizTalk Server, an XML server that allows customers to interconnect online marketplaces, XML-enable applications and integrate their back-end systems.

Microsoft and Sun Microsystems are squaring off on yet another front.

This time, the battle is over standards for Extensible Markup Language (XML). XML has evolved as the standard way to share data over the Internet. But the delivery vehicle for XML isn't standardized, and that's where the companies are clashing.

On Tuesday, Sun and its partners announced a new milestone in the development of the Electronic Business XML (ebXML) infrastructure championed by the standards group Oasis and the United Nations. Also on Tuesday, Microsoft announced that it had released to manufacturing its long-awaited BizTalk Server 2000, Microsoft's XML server.

Both technologies are intended to solve the same problem: linking dissimilar computers so companies can share information for e-commerce exchanges.

BizTalk Server is one of Microsoft's growing stable of .Net Enterprise server products. The product allows customers to interconnect online marketplaces, XML-enable applications and integrate their back-end systems, according to Microsoft.

"There was a lot of skepticism about Microsoft getting this thing (BizTalk Server) done, but they have," Meta Group vice president Will Zachman said. "It's one of the last missing pieces of the puzzle for business-to-business communications over the Web."

The sailing has not been smooth for BizTalk Server and the underlying BizTalk Framework. Microsoft announced BizTalk Server in March, 1999, and the product was slated to go to beta in the latter half of that year. Instead, BizTalk Server didn't make it into beta until August 2000. The company in September said BizTalk Server's release date had been pushed into next year.

Microsoft said Tuesday that the product will ship in January. Fifty customers are currently deploying the code, which was released on Monday, according to Microsoft.

The BizTalk Framework specifies the way companies should exchange data, in Microsoft's view. On Tuesday, Microsoft published the final 2.0 release of the Framework, which specifies how businesses should implement XML and the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) backed by Microsoft, IBM and others.

"BizTalk Framework is like the envelope for sending data over the Net," explained product manager David Wascha.

But the BizTalk Framework isn't the only specification for handling this task. Microsoft's framework competes head-to-head with the ebXML technical specification due out from OASIS in March 2001. It also competes with some of the specifications put forth by RosettaNet.

Zachman said IBM's decision to support SOAP and other related Microsoft-backed standards could give Microsoft a leg up over its framework competitors. He went so far as to characterize IBM's decision to back SOAP earlier this year as "renewing the IBM-Microsoft axis of power."

Microsoft BizTalk Server requires SQL Server 2000 to work. It comes in two versions: Standard and Enterprise. The Standard version sells for $4,999. The Enterprise version, which includes multiple-CPU and clustering support, as well as a software development kit--costs $24,999 per CPU.