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The race to create XML for e-commerce

Microsoft and Software AG plan to build XML servers that will help businesses exchange information more efficiently using the new language.

The race is on to create XML software for e-commerce.

Microsoft and Software AG this week announced plans to build XML servers that will help businesses exchange information more efficiently using the new language.

And in the months ahead, analysts expect more technology companies will unveil detailed XML product road maps, including giants IBM, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems.

"Two announcements from very large companies in the last few days is a good sign that XML and the volume of XML activity is growing steadily louder," said Zona Research analyst Ron Rappaport. "Microsoft is one of those companies doing a lot of XML work behind the curtains--and now we're getting a glimpse of what's in store."

Industry observers believe XML will revolutionize information exchange the way HTML changed user interfaces. But unlike HTML, which has uniform tags, XML allows developers to create their own tags for data, such as price and product. The result is more efficient data exchange and better Internet searching capabilities.

As part of its e-commerce strategy announced yesterday, Microsoft said it plans to build the BizTalk Server, an XML server that sits on top of its application server to help businesses distribute information, such as purchase orders, to one another.

Analysts say the product is similar in scope to Bluestone's XML Server or webMethods B2B server technology, which automatically generates and distributes XML documents from information in databases. In fact, Microsoft will use webMethods' software for BizTalk.

Satya Nadella, Microsoft's general manager for commerce platforms, said BizTalk is a framework that will help businesses perform the nitty-gritty details of setting up the connections to each other and includes tracking and analysis tools that help companies monitor transactions.

To facilitate transactions, the framework will include XML "schemas," or descriptions of businesses documents, such as name and order number, Nadella said.

But while Microsoft and Bluestone's XML servers allows XML documents and applications to communicate across the Web, Software AG's server focuses on storing XML data.

Software AG's Tamino will serve as a database for storing and caching XML documents and compete with Object Design's Excelon XML data server.

Tamino can process information from existing databases and applications and convert it to XML, Software AG executives said.

Rappaport said the smaller companies, such as Object Design and Bluestone, are first to market and have a good head start against Microsoft, Software AG, and other future XML vendors. Software AG's Tamino won't ship until the fourth quarter.

Microsoft plans to release a beta version of BizTalk Server this summer, but has not announced a final ship date.

Now's the time for the smaller companies to get their names out to the early adopters of XML, analysts said.

"Today, you have few options, so this is their window of opportunity before the IBMs, Microsofts, Suns, and Oracles have tangible products," he said.

But even when the big companies step into the market, Rappaport said the smaller players will still have a chance. "It's still early and the onus is to yell louder than the others and flex their channel muscle," he said, referring to resellers and systems integrators who help technology companies sell their products.

In related news, several smaller vendors made XML announcements this week. DataChannel rolled out new XML plans and tools, while electronic procurement provider Ariba announced plans to use webMethods' XML technology for its new business buying network. Next week, Sun plans to detail some of its XML plans at the X'Tech '99 conference in San Jose.

News.com's Tim Clark contributed to this report.