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.net makes anyone a service provider

Microsoft's .net vision involves putting software services online, so that business users can link into Web or extranet services from suppliers or customers, writes Cliff Saran.

Microsoft's .net vision strategy is an extension of the application hosting model and supports the hosting of information, storage and software-based services.

With .net, a company with a billing system could open up billing service to its business partners accessible over an extranet. An appointment booking system could be created online, using calendar-based services which could be used by a bank's customer to book an appointment with a loan manager over the Web.

Next week at the Professional Developers' Conference in Florida, Microsoft will provide early access to development tools designed to help third-party software houses start move existing applications into the .net environment.

Paul Maritz, vice-president for the platform group at Microsoft, speaking at the June Forum 2000 event in Seattle, said building Web applications today could take several weeks. Developers needed to mix Javascript and Visual Basic which makes applications difficult to maintain.

"What we are trying to achieve," he said, commenting on rival technology, "is beyond Java or Oracle."

At Forum 2000, Microsoft unveiled Web Forms, a tool included in the Visual Studio.net developer suite. Web Forms is based on the Visual Basic rapid application development environment for building Web applications that link data, HTML, mobile and Web-based services.

Maritz said developers would find it far simpler to build server-side components for online services with Web Form and Visual Studio than is possible today using traditional development techniques.

An extension to the Visual Basic programming language has been added, providing a way for users to turn Visual Basic functions into services that can be accessed online.

The Visual Basic tool defines an eXtensible Mark-up Language (XML) schema describing the function of the service using technology called Simple Object Application Protocol (Soap).

This is a platform independent specification which a business partner can use to connect to the Web service built in Visual Basic.

According to Maritz, a developer would not need access to any Microsoft development tools, or even be running on a Microsoft operating system platform, to connect to the software service. The information passed using Soap can be used to tell the developer how the service operates: the sort of data it requires to perform its task and the information it fetches.

Linked to Web Forms, is the Biztalk Application Designer tool in Visual Studio. This high level tool, which is aimed at business managers, will separate programming from business logic.

A programmer could use Visual Basic to create online software services available either internally or externally through an extranet or the Internet.

Using Application Designer, which is based on Visio, a business analyst could model business processes visually. The business processes map directly onto the software services created in Visual Basic or can connect to third-party services, such as a business process from a partner.

The first version of Visual Studio.net is not available until 2001. Microsoft plans to introduce a number of Web services at this time.

This was last published in July 2000

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