The company debuts its first public test version of BizTalk Server, a vital piece in its e-commerce software strategy.
BizTalk Server 2000 is Microsoft's answer to the growing need for businesses to link different computing systems so they can exchange data and conduct business over the Web.
As e-commerce grows, analysts say, companies need to build Web sites that link them seamlessly with their customers, suppliers and partners. That means companies need to tie together business software that was never meant to be integrated, such as financial and human resources software.
The emerging software integration market is expected to grow from $400 million last year to $1.8 billion by 2002, according to research company Gartner.
Microsoft is competing in the market against traditional rivals such as Sun Microsystems, IBM and Oracle, as well as Tibco, STC, Vitria and others.
The BizTalk Server uses Extensible Markup Language (XML) to tie computing systems together. XML is a Web standard touted as having the potential to revolutionize the way businesses exchange data. It not only allows companies to easily and cheaply conduct online transactions with customers and partners, but it also delivers sound, video and other data across the Web.
The product is part of a family of e-commerce software, dubbed .Net Enterprise Servers, that Microsoft will soon ship, including its SQL Server 2000 database. The products serve as the foundation of Microsoft's new Internet strategy to drive the Windows operating system more fully onto the Net.
The public test version of BizTalk Server can be downloaded from Microsoft's Web site. Microsoft executives expect the final version to ship later this year.
The product, which originally was slated for release in the first half of 2000, was delayed until the second half of the year as the company worked to add a new component to the product.
As previously reported, Microsoft is building "orchestration" into BizTalk Server. The feature allows a company to easily choreograph how an e-commerce Web site functions and how information is passed through computing systems to complete a transaction.
Analysts say the trickiest part in large-scale Web development is tying the user interface on the Web browser to back-end databases, purchasing software and warehouse order-processing systems. Tying these elements together allows them to work in tandem to complete a single online sale. BizTalk Server's orchestration feature allows businesses to visually map all of these pieces together.