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XML marks the spot at Microsoft

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XML is the defining technology for interoperability between unlike computing systems, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates told financial analysts recently. And it's the glue for Microsoft's .Net Internet platform.

But don't expect to see the promise of XML realized anytime soon. In May, Gates told Network World, "To really use XML and turn the Internet into a platform built around XML, for the industry that is a five-year project."

Gates says every Microsoft product will be touched by XML. Two of the company's most popular servers already bear XML markings. The SQL Server 2000 database allows functions such as XML-based queries, and the soon-to-arrive Exchange 2000 uses XML to describe data housed in its Web Storage System.

Microsoft's BizTalk Server 2000, which recently went into beta testing, is the XML workhorse, providing XML translation and tools to coordinate the delivery of XML messages.

"XML is one of the best ways to communicate between business partner systems," says Dave Turner, product manager for XML technologies at Microsoft. "There are no dependencies on the endpoints. The endpoints can change without having to worry about each other because it's XML in the middle."

But as much as Microsoft touts XML as the glue for a 'Net economy, it has a lot of work to do. Only one of its seven XML-enabled servers is actually shipping.

"Microsoft is in its infancy with XML, just like everyone else," says Mike Gilpin, an analyst with Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass. "A big missing element is Visual Studio 7, which will allow developers to use XML and create e-services for the .Net platform."

Microsoft is working diligently as a primary backer of the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), a lightweight, XML-based protocol for exchanging information. The protocol has been presented to the World Wide Web Consortium and the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Microsoft has included SOAP 1.1 in its BizTalk Framework 2.0, an open specification for XML-based data routing and exchange. Other efforts by Microsoft include the BizTalk.org Web site, in which XML formats, or schemas, can be submitted for peer review.

- John Fontana

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