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Microsoft preparing a Hailstorm of Web services

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Microsoft this week plans to take another of many slow and lumbering steps on the road to explaining its .Net strategy.

The company is expected to unveil a series of Web services - code-named Hailstorm - which will help define .Net, a plan to deliver software as a set of services available over the Internet. The idea behind Hailstorm is that its components will help corporate and other developers more easily build applications that run on .Net infrastructure servers, including Windows 2000, Exchange 2000 and SQL Server 2000.

Chief Software Architect Bill Gates will introduce Hailstorm as a set of "building blocks" of reusable code that can be added to .Net applications designed to live on a network.

The Hailstorm building blocks include Passport, Microsoft's online user identification service, and MSN Messenger instant messaging. Those Web services will provide user identity or messaging services to .Net applications.

Microsoft said last year it would deliver these and other Web services, including personal subscription and storage services, as some of the first .Net components.

The building blocks are much like the chunks of code Microsoft provides to ease development of Windows-specific applications.

Microsoft will include Passport and MSN Messenger services in the upcoming desktop operating system Windows XP. But Hailstorm extends the services, especially MSN Messenger, letting it become a development platform instead of just a single application.

Microsoft would not comment on the announcement.

Observers say Hailstorm could form the foundation of secure Internet-based messaging middleware similar to Microsoft Message Queue Server that lets applications communicate with each other asynchronously. Such middleware would support applications that rely on a series of transactions with other systems, especially e-commerce applications running over the Internet.

"Microsoft could be looking at developing lightweight message queuing that works over HTTP, can traverse firewalls, and allow applications to publish and subscribe to each others' events," says James Kobielus, an analyst with The Burton Group.

Message queuing would let an event that happens on one system, such as the approval of a shipping order, be instantly sent to another application, such as an e-commerce application, that subscribes to that event.

On the corporate side, developers say Hailstorm may tie MSN Messenger into Exchange.

Hailstorm's MSN Messenger component can use Exchange and its Web Storage System as its back end, according to sources. Applications using MSN Messenger could deliver not only instant messaging, but also regular e-mail or audio- and videoconferencing.

Hailstorm will transform Exchange protocols into XML, a foundation technology for .Net, and show them to developers.

While Microsoft has not revealed the release date of Hailstorm, it's likely Passport will be integrated with future versions of Active Directory and MSN Messenger with the next version of Exchange or Yukon, a universal data store being developed for .Net.

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