The Redmond, Wash., software company says the new feature for a product called BizTalk server -- which likely won't be on the market until the fourth quarter -- will help businesses easily connect different processes linked to electronic-commerce transactions, such as billing, inventory management and shipping. Microsoft (msft) Chairman Bill Gates will unveil the technology during a speech at a software developers' conference in Orlando, Fla.
Dubbed "orchestration," the technology runs via the Internet and is based on the new computer language known as XML, said Chris Atkinson, a Microsoft vice president. XML, shorthand for extensible markup language, makes it possible for information to describe itself so processes can be automated more easily. A business program might, for example, automatically recognize that one set of digits in a Web page referred to a product number or a person's name, making it easier to process orders automatically.
Rivals, including Oracle Corp. (orcl) and IBM Corp. (ibm), already make similar technology to help businesses connect separate systems to their back-end transactions processing, said Rob Enderle, an analyst with Giga Information Group. But "the other folks tend to use their own proprietary hooks," Enderle said, while Microsoft "has sort of taken the lead with XML," an industry-wide programming standard that is expected to become more important as Internet commerce grows.
Though Enderle said Microsoft's new technology was long planned to be a critical part of the BizTalk server, it is also one of the first applications of Microsoft's "Next Generation Windows Services" strategy, an attempt to adapt existing Microsoft software to run on the Internet and devices other than personal computers. The formal announcement of the new initiative has been pushed back to June 22 as the company waits for U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson to rule on whether to order a corporate breakup or other remedies following his antitrust verdict against the company.
Company officials have talked publicly about a few consumer applications of the latest Windows offering, dubbed NGWS, such as services involving online travel planning and shopping. But Microsoft also has to build the back-end machinery to power these services. The "orchestration" project for servers is one example, company officials said.
Users "want to have a particular set of services enabled from the Web cloud in the sky," Atkinson explained. But "somebody has to do the pulling together of those services and capabilities to deliver to the user."