MS plumbing: The next generation

Bill Gates gives TechEd developers a sneak peek behind Microsoft's Next Generation Windows Services architecture

Microsoft may not officially unveil its Next Generation Windows Services architecture until June 22, but company officials gave developers a sneak peek Monday at some of the plumbing that will enable Microsoft to sell software as a service.

During a keynote speech Monday morning at the TechEd 2000 show, chairman Bill Gates showed off some of the new capabilities that Microsoft is building into its forthcoming Visual Studio 7.0 and BizTalk Server products. Gates said these new technologies would help Microsoft simplify programming the 'Phase 3' Internet.

Gates also told attendees that Microsoft has developed a $2 billion, three-year plan to help train and support developers in learning the new Microsoft tools and technologies that are needed for programming for this Phase 3 Internet.

Microsoft plans to define "how software will change the Internet to be even more powerful," Gates told attendees. In his self-appointed role as Microsoft's chief software architect, Gates discussed Microsoft's vision of a "software-driven Internet" where Web applications written with a single set of Microsoft-developed tools can run across a variety of devices.

"Tools are probably the key ingredient," Gates acknowledged, adding that Microsoft and developers will be charged with making these tools and plumbing technologies transparent to users.

Next Generation Windows Services (NGWS) is the architecture that Microsoft will debut on June 22 at a one-day Forum 2000 event for journalists and analysts. Microsoft has promised that NGWS will provide a framework uniting the company's visions for application hosting, device-independent computing and Web applications/services programming.

NGWS will be powered by the current-day "Phase 3 Internet," in Gates' view. He described the Phase 3 Internet as an environment where, "the Internet becomes a platform" in its own right, much like the PC has traditionally been. Instead of a world where Internet users are limited to reading information, largely one screen at a time, the Phase 3 Internet will unite multiple Web sites running on any device, and allow users to read, write and annotate them via speech, handwriting recognition and the like, Gates said.

Gates highlighted the importance of the XML standard as enabling this Phase 3 vision. "In the same way in 1995 we made a big bet on the Internet... we're going to lead the way in these (XML) advances," he said.

Microsoft is adding XML to all its forthcoming Windows 2000 servers, tools and applications. It also is working to further an emerging protocol, the Simple Object Access Protocol (Soap), which will run on top of XML and allow Web applications and services to communicate across platforms, he said.

Microsoft on Monday made available for download from its Microsoft Developer Network site its Soap Toolkit for Visual Studio 6.0. It is providing this toolkit so Windows developers can begin writing applications using Soap before the company delivers its long-awaited Visual Studio 7.0 tool suite. Visual Studio 7.0 was expected to ship last year; now Microsoft is saying it will enter alpha testing this summer, beta testing in the fall and ship "when it's ready." Most Microsoft watchers are expecting the company to ship Visual Studio 7.0 some time in 2001.

During Gates' keynote, Visual Studio product planner Dave Mendlen showed off for the first time publicly some of the Web forms and services technologies that Microsoft is building into Visual Studio 7.0.

Mendlen demonstrated a technology Microsoft called RAD for the Server. RAD, or rapid application development, technology allows programmers to develop applications more quickly and with less coding. Mendlen showed off Microsoft Server Explorer and Web forms technologies that will allow Visual Studio developers to expose middle-tier business objects and publish them to the Web as services.

"This makes a Web service look like a Visual Basic object," Mendlen told the TechEd audience. He added, however, that the goal of RAD for the Server is to allow developers to program any service in any language to run on any platform.

Gates also showed off a piece of technology that Microsoft is building into a forthcoming e-commerce XML server, called BizTalk Server. This component, which Microsoft is calling BizTalk Orchestration, is designed to help developers visually design and build business processes and to better separate those processes from the rest of an application's code.

In April, Microsoft made publicly available a "preview" alpha version of BizTalk Server, an XML server that Microsoft says will begin beta testing this summer. BizTalk Server originally was scheduled to ship in 1999.

Gates closed his TechEd speech by reiterating to Microsoft's faithful developer community that the company is more committed than ever to helping them learn XML and other technologies they will need to write software for the next-generation Internet.

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