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Microsoft tests retail software

The software giant begins shipping the beta version of its ActiveStore framework to link retailers' in-store systems with back-end operations.

Microsoft (MSFT) today began shipping the beta version of its ActiveStore software framework to link retailers' in-store systems with back-end operations, the company said.

The software giant aims to create a plug-and-play framework for store-level applications with ActiveStore.

An Alpha version of the code for ActiveStore was released back in October at Microsoft's second ActiveStore developers conference in Seattle.

The beta version enables independent software vendors (ISV) to test the ActiveStore framework services, which address basic functions for retailers, such as immediate crash recovery, centralized security, and a common set of interapplication messages for major events.

Microsoft said it's aiming to replace the role of independent software vendors in linking disparate pieces of software together into working systems.

"Standardizing these services will enable retailers and technology suppliers to focus their efforts on enhancing the business value and functionality of their applications," Microsoft's real industry marketing manager Judy Dulrich said in a statement today.

The initiative has four major components: User interface services, base system services, data access, and interapplication messages.

Microsoft also said it has added to its ActiveStore steering committee. The original members are Campbell Software, Fujitsu, IBM, ICL Retail Systems, Microsoft, NCR, and Olsy-Olivetti Solutions. The committee was recently expanded to include Comprise Technologies, JDA Software Group, Matra Systems, Radiant Systems, and Riva Group.

Established last fall, the steering committee is responsible for laying the groundwork for ActiveStore code and definitions, and driving the direction of the initiative.

ActiveStore is based on the Windows Distributed interNet Applications (Windows DNA) architecture and is part of a broader initiative by Microsoft to define an end-to-end framework for product-related industries, like raw materials suppliers and consumer products companies. Windows DNA is built atop the component object model (COM), Microsoft's component framework.

In addition, other components of the product industries framework include the OLE Point of Sale (OPOS) specification for retail POS devices, and the Value Chain initiative (VCI) for business-to-business e-commerce.

The alternative to OPOS is Sun Microsystems' JavaPOS protocol for using Java in retail point-of-sale applications such as cash registers, bar-code readers, and scanner. JavaPOS lets developers write applications that will run on any machine--smart card reader, point-of-sale terminal, or telephone.

Microsoft said the next milestone for ActiveStore is a developers conference scheduled for April 20-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada, where ISVs will receive training on the specification, the company said.