Microsoft last week announced a tools suite, core specifications and a family of server software in an attempt to put some flesh on the bones of its .net strategy.
Microsoft's Paul Maritz, group vice president for the Windows platform, unveiled the .net framework, along with Visualstudio.net, Soap Contract Language, Soap Discovery and a family of .net enterprise servers at the Microsoft Professional Developers' Conference held last week in Florida.
The .net framework (see story opposite) is intended to provide a multi-language development and execution environment for building and running Web services using Soap (Simple Object Access Protocol) and XML (Extensible Markup Language).
Controversially, Microsoft announced that .net will support 14 programming languages but has omitted Java. Microsoft is currently embroiled in a legal dispute with Sun as a result of alleged unauthorised changes to Java, which it is claimed reduced the language's cross-platform compatibility. Visualstudio.net will provide developers with an environment to deliver the proposed .net services via an XML-based model.
However, users are cautious. Simon Moores, chairman of user association the Microsoft Forums, warned, "We will have to hope that Microsoft does not embrace XML in the same way that it has 'embraced' Java."
The two core specifications announced at the conference are Soap Contract Language (SCL), which describes Web services' capabilities, and Soap Discovery, which gives rules for location of Web services.
SCL, for example, provides descriptions of types of information a Web service would expect to receive and specifies for that information to be processed in a given way - such as identifying share price information and forwarding it to other Web sites.
Soap Discovery provides rules for locating SCL descriptions. This means that if a developer wished to build a share price service into a site it would be found automatically.
Soap is an open standards interoperability protocol that uses XML to provide common formats for use between Internet appliances. In promoting this standard Andrew Layman, Microsoft Web service architect, said the firm was "demonstrating a commitment to continuing to work with the development community to make Web services ubiquitous".
Gary Barnett, an analyst with Ovum, said, "Soap is potentially extremely important. With support from companies such as IBM it will enable global interoperability."