Indigo sticks out its Web services neck

Middleware has long been responsible for transferring data between incompatible applications, but enterprises will soon be able to use Web services and open standards to accomplish the task.

In early 2006, Microsoft Corp. will release Indigo, the software giant’s attempt to increase integration between its applications and those from third parties. An add-on to the firm’s Visual Studio developer toolkit, Indigo will enable developers to build Web services extensions into their applications with greater ease.

Users currently have the ability to write Web services applications with Visual Studio, but Indigo will make the job easier by automatically creating the bulk of the code, leaving developers to focus on the nitty-gritty details. Indigo, which entered its first beta this month, will work best with Microsoft’s Visual Studio 2005, to be released this summer.

Microsoft is touting Indigo as the method to build Web services to run on Windows XP, Longhorn and Windows Server 2003, said Greg DeMichillie, senior analyst at Kirkland, Wash.-based Directions on Microsoft Inc., an independent research firm that focuses specifically on Microsoft.

DeMichillie said Indigo is for users who “accept the premise that Web services are going to be how companies integrate existing applications or how they connect their systems with partner systems.”

For example, a customer working in a mixed Microsoft and Java environment could build extensions into to its applications that would let data flow seamlessly through Web services, according to Ari Bixhorn, lead product manager, platform strategy group, Web Services strategy at Microsoft in Redmond, Wash.

He said Indigo also makes it easier for developers to build advanced features into Web services, including security, reliable messaging and support for transactions. Using current integrated developer environments, developers would have to write 50,000 lines of code to include this extra functionality in a simple Web services application. But using Indigo, developers would only need to write three lines — Indigo would take care of the rest, Bixhorn said.

Microsoft isn’t the only company adding this kind of functionality to its IDEs. Companies that play in the Java world, such as IBM Corp. and BEA Systems Inc., are also in on the game. But because Web services are based on open standards, it won’t matter which IDE developers use to create the extensions, he said.

“They have to ensure the two systems (Java and Microsoft) can work together,” he explained. “If they don’t talk to each other, nobody wins.”

Tim Ewald, chief technology officer at Mindreef Inc. in Hollis, N.H., and a former Microsoft employee, has extensively tested Indigo and said the tool makes it easier for developers to enable applications for Web services. Mindreef builds a diagnostic tool for Web services called SOAPscope, which lets users diagnose problems with Web services and share information across disparate infrastructures.

Because Mindreef is primarily Microsoft shop, Ewald said Indigo will be the company’s preferred development platform, although Mindreef will work with Java toolkits for customers with Unix and Linux infrastructures.

“The Java toolkits all do the basics and they are starting to include some advanced features as well,” he said.

Warren Shiau, an independent software analyst in Toronto, said Microsoft’s strategy around Indigo effectively debunks previous industry predictions that Web services was going to generate loads of revenue. The vendor is commoditizing the technology by vowing to make Indigo available for free, he said.

“It’s an effort that utilizes Web services and is based on Web services, which will add value through Web services for IT users, but won’t necessarily inject new revenue into the IT market,” Shiau added.

Additionally, Indigo is not expected to revolutionize the industry and experts don’t anticipate users replacing middleware overnight in favour of Web services, DeMichillie said.

“It will be long-term,” he said. “I don’t expect anyone to rip out existing middleware and build it with Indigo — it’s too expensive. The Web services bandwagon has been beating the drum for three years now and this will continue for several more years until we see some large-scale developments around Indigo.”

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