Gates on the SOAP box –

At TechEd in Orlando, Fla., Monday, Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, discussed a series of initiatives the desktop software giant has undertaken in XML and business-to-business computing. One of the most important projects he discussed was SOAP, a lightweight protocol that uses XML to issue remote procedure calls over the Web.

The company first discussed SOAP just prior to last year's TechEd conference, and, though it remains largely unknown, the protocol has gained momentum since then. In his conference keynote, Gates mentioned that several traditional competitors had joined Microsoft in submitting SOAP to the W3C for possible acceptance as a standard.

Among a slew of product announcements at TechEd came word that Microsoft would release a SOAP toolkit for Visual Studio 6.0. The product will include a wizard interface to help developers with various tasks -- exposing COM objects to diverse applications, for instance.

While B2B is a major area of interest for Microsoft, Gates noted that XML schema can be useful for in-house tasks, especially for describing business processes. He also described BizTalk Orchestration, a tool currently in development that will work with Microsoft's BizTalk server to let IT shops visually design business processes. "This can be the glue to span applications," said Gates.

"A new software foundation will provide a new user experience," said Gates, who pointed to XML as the key enabler. "XML allows programs to exchange information at a high level," he said.

He did admit, however, that "there's a lot of work that needs to be done around XML." The new Microsoft tool add-ons, and a new developer education program, would help a great mass of developers to begin programming against XML schema, he said.

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