Users seek answers on Indigo

Microsoft last week vowed to dramatically boost developer productivity with its forthcoming Indigo communications technology for building Web services. Some users, however, say they're still grappling to understand the tools in Indigo's .Net Framework predecessor.

At Microsoft's VSLive conference in San Francisco, executives of the software vendor provided new details about Indigo, which Microsoft describes as a set of .Net technologies that can be used to build and run connected systems. Officials said the Indigo unified programming model is an extension of .Net Framework 2.0 that can be used to build advanced Web services.

Microsoft initially planned to ship Indigo only as part of the next-generation Longhorn operating system, but last summer it decided to make the technology available for Windows XP and Server users.

A prebeta community technology preview of Indigo will be released in March.

Because it's based on standards like WS-Security and WS-Reliable Messaging, which were developed by Microsoft and its partners, the Indigo subsystem will allow developers to create advanced Web services by writing much less code than is required today, Microsoft executives said.

In addition, the adherence to emerging standards will allow Web services created in .Net to more easily interoperate with those created by technologies from other vendors, like IBM and BEA Systems, that are also involved in creating the standards, according to Microsoft.

"In the past, security and reliability were an afterthought," said Ari Bixhorn, lead product manager for Microsoft's platform strategy group. "With Indigo, we built all that in from day one. Developers should be able to focus on the business problem in their code."

But some developers are still focusing on mastering initial attempts at using Web services to tie together applications without hard-coded integration, and they question whether Indigo can help speed that task along.

Indigo "looks nice on paper, but I will have to see it in action," said Richard Hawk, a developer at West Bend Mutual Insurance Co. in West Bend, Wisconsin, who has been using Visual Studio .Net 2003. "We're trying to develop Web services on an IBM mainframe, and it has been very painful trying to tie together all that information."

ServiceMaster Clean in Memphis has been using Visual Studio .Net 2003 since late last year to build a handful of Web services for internal integration. But Allen Nelson, ServiceMaster's director of information systems, said Microsoft's description of Indigo's place within .Net still lacks clarity. "I don't know how it fits in [or] if it will even change our code," he said.

Fei Ho, vice president of software at ABN Amro Holding NV, a financial services firm with U.S. headquarters in Chicago, said his organization, which recently started using .Net, will wait until Web services standards stabilize before upgrading to Indigo.

"Web services haven't been stabilized yet, and we would like to wait a little bit if we have to change what we have now," Ho said.

Microsoft needs to better clarify Indigo's role in building Web services, added Shawn Willett, an analyst at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Virginia. "I agree with users (who say) that Indigo is confusing. Is it a product (or) a set of products?" he said.

The main advantage to Indigo, he said, likely will be its standards-based approach to performing basic functions like security through Web services and adding processes on top of Web services.

A beta release of Indigo is slated to ship in June, with general availability in 2006.

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Heather Havenstein

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