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BizTalk to ease B2B commerce

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by Jim Rapoza, PC Week Labs

More than a year after the announcement of BizTalk, Microsoft Corp. has revealed little about concrete application support for the technology — until now. PC Week Labs' tests of a preview version of BizTalk Server 2000 show that the BizTalk platform will pave the way for easy XML (Extensible Markup Language)-based business-to-business commerce but only if support for standards improves.

Although it's early in the game—BizTalk Server isn't slated to be released until the fall — we were impressed with the sophistication of the management and development tools included with BizTalk Server 2000. (The technology preview we looked at was released last week and is available at www.microsoft.com/biztalkserver. )

Not all its components are unique, but BizTalk Server 2000 provides complete line-to-line capabilities for implementing XML-based data integration: tools to create and design XML specifications; mapping data from one specification to another; and managing process flow, document verification, and data exchange and processing.

A big drawback to BizTalk Server 2000, however, is its lack of support for the World Wide Web Consortium's upcoming XML schema standards. BizTalk uses a different, older XML standard.

In tests, the BizTalk Server tools worked well with schemata and documents downloaded from www.biztalk.org—a community site and repository for BizTalk Framework. But the server could not handle files that were W3C-compliant. This lack of support could fragment B2B e-commerce, with companies using BizTalk Framework unable to easily integrate with those using W3C-standard schemata.

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There have been indications from Microsoft that BizTalk will eventually include support for the W3C's standard schemata. If Microsoft fails to do this, organizations looking for true standards support will go with competing products, such as IBM's MQSeries Integrator 2, due this summer.