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Microsoft to give a sneak peek at its XML server

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REDMOND, WASH. - Microsoft will soon publicly release the first test code for its XML-based e-commerce software, but the product will be missing technology that is key to its evolution.

BizTalk Server 2000 is a gateway that uses XML to support the exchange of business documents, such as purchase orders, between applications using different data formats. Microsoft intends for the server to become a cornerstone of its business-to-business e-commerce platform along with the just-released Windows 2000.

BizTalk will make its debut in early April when Microsoft releases what it calls technical review code. But the software will be missing technology that will allow users to develop executable code that runs on the server. BizTalk in its current form takes in data and transforms it from its native format to XML and vice versa, and routes the documents between systems.

This summer Microsoft will launch its first official public beta of BizTalk that will include a business process automation modeling and execution engine. The new engine is key because it lets developers build processes that support business-to-business e-commerce, execute those processes on the server and combine documents into a single process.

"Microsoft is providing tools that allow end users to take the role of creating business agreements, enabling service levels and publishing them to the BizTalk Server where the code can be processed," says Jeff Guillot, director of IT for home and small business at Dell Computer, which has been testing early BizTalk code since November. "End users manage the transaction without IT getting involved."

Dell is testing the server to automate the purchasing process between itself and suppliers, Guillot says.

The new engine will help BizTalk move forward and may allow Microsoft to move XML translation features from BizTalk into Win 2000.

"It's certainly conceivable that XML [transformation and routing] could migrate to the core of the operating system," says Dwight Davis, an analyst with Summit Strategies in Kirkland, Wash. "It could become like [Internet Information Server] is today in the operating system."

Microsoft is building XML into everything it does from the Exchange messaging platform to the SQL Server database.

BizTalk's transformation and routing technologies could be combined with Win 2000, much the same way load balancing was added to the server, according to observers.

"But the process modeling and execution is separate and not within the scope of the operating system," says Chris Olson, group product manager for BizTalk. "The engine provides a real development environment for business-to-business commerce, as opposed to just a gateway for passing XML messages."

Olson says initial implementations of BizTalk will focus on the gateway aspect for business system integration.

Down the road, however, BizTalk likely will look different than the software that will be sent to testers next month.

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