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PC Week News
XML strategy raises concern
Some see attempt to control language
By Antone Gonsalves, PC Week Online
January 24, 2000 12:00 AM ET

Why have Microsoft Corp.'s efforts to get BizTalk adopted as the industry-standard XML schema aroused suspicion about the company's motives?

The portion of the BizTalk Frame work that has raised eyebrows among industry experts is Microsoft's requirement that e-commerce developers wrap Biz Talk Extensible Markup Language tags around their schemata to publish them to the BizTalk repository.

The tags declare that the contents of an XML/EDI (electronic data interchange) message conform to a Microsoft-defined set of permissible data elements and also specify message routing features and request-response protocols. The concern among some developers is that if Microsoft controls these tags and data element definitions, it can gain a competitive advantage by building them into products such as its Commerce Server or XML server before other firms.

The ubiquity of Microsoft products and control of the standard would give the Redmond, Wash., company an opportunity to become an XML power broker, critics said. "One of the things people fear is that by Microsoft putting out their view of what a schema should be in a commercial product, it will become a de facto schema that then Microsoft would control; it wouldn't be an open standard, and it would put Microsoft in a competitive advantage," said Bob Bickel, vice president of business development for Bluestone Software Inc., in Mount Laurel, N.J., which makes a Java-based XML integration server.

Bickel is not alone in questioning Microsoft's motives.

"BizTalk, in my opinion, is the first case where [Microsoft] appears to be doing something in a proprietary way related to XML, and it's fairly big," said Bill Smith, manager of the XML technology center for Sun Microsystems Inc., in Palo Alto, Calif. "To me, it calls into question their motives."

Despite such intense suspicion, Microsoft has yet to show proprietary intentions in its BizTalk initiative. In promoting BizTalk, it has offered its specifications to the World Wide Web Consortium; enlisted other vendors and the Data Interchange Standards Association into its BizTalk steering committee; and joined other XML-based standards initiatives, such as RosettaNet, a high-visibility vertical-market XML/EDI initiative aimed at automating the supply chain between IT vendors.

Microsoft has submitted its e-commerce wrapper specification to the W3C, which has not placed it on its standards track.

Microsoft's commitment to open standards will be tested when the W3C publishes alternate tags. (No target date has been announced.) Although the W3C's standard could include tags from non-BizTalk alternatives, Microsoft has said it will implement all W3C standards.

Meanwhile, some say Microsoft has not done anything that indicates it is about to derail the work of industry standards bodies.

"I'm looking for evidence of fissures and proprietary [behavior]; I haven't seen it yet," said Martin Marshall, an analyst with Zona Research Inc., in Redwood City, Calif.

Even in the absence of a clear XML schema standard, the race is on among vendors to incorporate application integration features using XML into their products.

"There is no one product that has established a dominant position," said Tim Bray, a consultant and XML expert in Vancouver, British Columbia, who has written several W3C specs. "There's a tremendous amount of usage of XML going on [in the enterprise], but it's pretty much a hodgepodge of technologies they're using."

Among the more recent announcements was Hewlett-Packard Co.'s integration of the Bluestone XML Server—which uses a variety of XML schemata—with its HP Changengine business process management system. The Palo Alto, Calif., company will offer the integrated product this quarter.

In addition, BEA Systems Inc., of San Jose, Calif., plans to release in the second quarter a transformation engine, code-named E-Collaborate, for mapping between different XML schemata.