Gates boosts Web services to developers

Bill Gates kicked off Microsoft Corp.'s annual developer conference here today by beating the drum for XML-based Web services and offering a variety of beta products and software that support the new development method and the company's .Net framework.

"The XML-type applications will replace the old applications, and they will find a new area where software was not used before," said Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, in opening remarks at Microsoft's Professional Development Conference. "Software is going to define this digital decade."

Web services technology describes a new application development method. Unlike full-fledged applications, Web services are discrete bits of code functionality used by other applications for retrieving information. Underlying Web services are a number of protocols, such as HTTP and Simple Object Access Protocol. But XML is the key ingredient in making the development method work, because it helps to explain those bits of information that get swapped in Web services.

Microsoft's .Net platform, which Microsoft unveiled in mid-2000, includes a middleware layer of code that enables applications to exchange Web services in Microsoft environments and with applications crafted in other non-Microsoft development languages. It requires an update to Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net tools, which will ship with the .Net framework and new development languages, such as C# and Visual J#, by year's end, Gates said.

"What this means is that we're ready to go, and any last-minute feedback we want to get," said Gates. "But we definitely think we're on track to release by the end of the year."

A beta development kit of Microsoft's Web services for consumer applications, .Net My Services, formerly code-named Hailstorm, was released to attendees. Gates also released the beta (Release Candidate 1) of Visual Studio.Net.

Anders Hejlsberg, Microsoft distinguished engineer for .Net, demonstrated a Web service built with Microsoft's Visual Studio.Net tools during the keynote. The demo showed how contact information could be swapped between two Exchange address books as a Web service that's formatted in XML. Because the XML describes the data, he said, it's easier for the receiving application to format the swapped address data.

"XML is deep in the fabric of the .Net framework," Hejlsberg said.

Attendees also received previews of new Microsoft technologies, including the Tablet PC, .Net Speech SDK and Compact .Net Framework for building applications on devices, such as Microsoft's Pocket PC.

The Tablet PC is a sleek 2-pound device with six hours of battery life that can operate without a keyboard, using pen-based controls. It will fully support Windows XP when it ships in 2003, Gates said.

"Windows XP is about the full-powered PC," said Gates, who added that Microsoft would officially launch Windows XP on Thursday in New York. Conference attendees who watch the event via telecast from Los Angeles will receive the professional version of Windows XP, he said.

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