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Gates Reaffirms Microsoft's Interoperability Pledge

Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates repeated the company's pledge to use XML as the key ingredient to make software more interoperable.

In an executive letter, Gates emphasized Microsoft's pledge to write applications that require less customization, testing and certification, a task some experts see as sort of a holy grail in programming. This leads to complexity that challenges large companies like Microsoft and thwarts vendors with fewer resources.

One of the ways to help this feat is Extensible Markup Language or XML.

As a self-describing language, XML is widely-recognized as the de facto language for programming Web services . This distributed computing method involves making different applications communicate to let business users execute transactions such as purchase orders.

"For example, when two systems exchange a purchase order, the attributes of that purchase order are described in XML, so any receiving system can use that description to translate and use the enclosed information," Gates said in an executive letter reaffirming the company's software goal Thursday.

Gates readily acknowledges XML Web services are the cornerstone of Microsoft's .NET platform. XML is already used as the framework for Office 2003 and Office System software. Office documents, spreadsheets and forms can be saved in an XML file format that is free for anyone to use.

The purchase order example is one many other software companies, including IBM, BEA Systems and Sun Microsystems, cite as a way to provide Web services for their customers to improve computing efficiency.

But to date, this industry-wide effort has been stymied by sluggish standards and reticence to put aside competitive differences to work together, among other snags.

There are some silver linings in going forward. Microsoft and Sun are working on a plan to bridge the gap between the two companies' disparate identity management approaches.

Officials from Sun have said the work has been progressing. However, they refused to announce what shape the interoperability work might take or when it will be announced. The two vendors have also cooperated with Sun on standards for describing Web services eventing, notification, metadata exchange and management.

Gates' letter also sets the stage for a major Microsoft developer event next week, VS-Live San Francisco. Programmers from all over the world will congregate to discuss and test Visual Studio, the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant's popular drag-and-drag development tool.

Visual Studio 2005 is currently in beta 1.1. While Microsoft is not expected to release a full beta at the show, "bits," or nuggets of software code, are sometimes offered in advance of betas to whet programmers' appetites. Sources familiar with outfit's plans have said beta 2 could come out by the end of March.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has recently launched a new site detailing its interoperability efforts that may be found here.