Microsoft Demos Its Next-Generation Internet Tools

At Developer Days 99, Microsoft revealed more of its ongoing strategy to deliver tools to build leading- edge e-commerce sites with Microsoft technologies. At a press briefing in San Francisco, Microsoft president Steve Ballmer and Developer Group vice president Paul Maritz offered their visions of the technologies the company is building into its software. They also disclosed new products that the company intends to deliver in 2000. You can view the transcripts of each executive's press briefing at (Steve Ballmer) and (Paul Maritz). Microsoft announced several new products at DevDays '99, including AppServer—a management console for application load balancing using COM+ components. Application load balancing was originally part of Windows 2000 Advanced Server (Win2K AS), but Microsoft removed this technology after receiving customer feedback that suggested component load balancing needed better management tools. You can use AppServer to bring additional servers online and increase a Web site's capacity as needed. AppServer displays the existing servers' application services and components in the management console, and if required, copies these services and components to the new servers so that you can start the application being managed as part of an application image. In addition to announcing AppServer, Microsoft demonstrated its three-tiered architecture, Windows Distributed InterNet Applications (Windows DNA) 2000 architecture, at the press briefing with impressive results. Within this architecture, a business logic layer consisting of COM components separates a back-end database from a Web server's presentation layer. This construction lets you tune and maintain a high-transaction Web site. To demonstrate this architecture, Microsoft used an 8-way Intel Profusion box running SQL Server 7.0 to display a Web site running a volume of transactions an order of magnitude greater than the New York Stock Exchange. Another display demonstrated a Web site built from six rack-mounted servers that was handling 11,000 connected users serving up 3 billion pages a day, nearly eight times more traffic than Yahoo's current load. Microsoft also used DevDays '99 to demonstrate the ability to cluster servers and retain state information during sessions in the event that servers in any of the three Windows DNA layers fail. Microsoft is building native XML support into several of its products, including Shiloh, the next version of SQL Server. Other products Microsoft described at the conference include BizTalk Server, which communicates business documents in BizTalk schemas from and is now entering beta; the Babylon Integration Server for mainframe access; and a new version of Microsoft Commerce Server. You can find a description of these new products at Microsoft intends to make XML an underlying part of its products and its programming languages. To emphasize this point, the company showed an advanced preview of Visual Studio 7.0 at DevDays '99. Microsoft demonstrated this product, which might eventually bear another name (e.g., Visual Studio 2000), using a Visual Basic (VB) program to pass XML data back and forth between a Web page and a business object. Through XML, both the Web page and object expose themselves to outside programs. As a result, you can use VB or Visual C++ to program objects for the Web that will make your services available to outside programmers. By incorporating XML technology, Microsoft's intent and vision is to let Web sites access the services of other Web sites using simple program calls in whatever programming language the outside developers use (e.g., Java), provided that the programming language calling the service on the other Web site understands and can use XML. Bill Gates has referred to this vision as building "mega services" or "mega components," and the example that Microsoft cited at DevDays '99 was Microsoft Passport. This component enables people to purchase items securely over the Web. Although Passport is not openly available to the public, many sites now use this technology, and the systems that serve up Passport now rank 14 on the list of most heavily visited Internet sites. The range of technology that Microsoft showed at DevDays '99 is certainly impressive. However, Microsoft must provide these new capabilities in a user-friendly way that developers can understand and easily implement. In previous incarnations of products such as Commerce Server, the software required too much of a learning curve to build large Web sites. Although significant examples of Microsoft technology exist on the Internet, the general consensus among many analysts is that these sites require considerable resources to create and maintain. Ease of use and integration is the key factors to Microsoft’s future success in this area.

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